TV REVIEW: Merlin Series 4, Episode 12 – The Sword in the Stone (Pt 1)

The battle for Camelot is pretty much over as soon as it’s started but Morgana’s not content with having the castle, she wants Arthur dead. There’s some role reversal but the use of personality-altering enchantments has been overdone. In this instance, it’s still pretty humorous.

Meanwhile the introduction of new characters Tristan and Isolde will hopefully bring some life to the second half of the finale as overall, felt the story in this part isn’t as exciting as the finales past, even with the gorgeous cinematography.

The episode opens with a very humorous moment between Arthur and Merlin. The king is trying to get dressed for a feast but Merlin is dilly dallying on the last item he needs. We’re treated to another trouser-less Arthur moment when he catches Merlin “improving” his belt by adding an extra notch. Meaning Arthur has gained some kingly pounds since taking over! He makes Merlin swear to keep it a secret – and he’d know all about doing that. Bradley James’ should be in a comedy after this show is over because his comedic timing is amazing.

Meanwhile, Morgana’s plan to invade Camelot is going into effect while everyone is at a feast. Everyone but Agravaine who brings Helios’ troops into the castle, taking Arthur and his knights by surprise. We then see the knights go down one by one: first Leon having to retreat helping people escape and then Elyan being blasted by Morgana. We see nice slow-mo of the fighting and running but Arthur gets hit just as Merlin finds him and is dragged to safety.

The moment that a lot of us have been waiting for is pretty underwhelming as Arthur finds out about his uncle’s betrayal by witnessing him walk through the courtyard with Morgana. His disbelief turns to fury and he moves to go after them but Merlin holds him back, pulling him away to the antechamber. With only minutes at best before they’re discovered, Merlin states that Morgana is coming for Arthur, who won’t leave his people behind.

Gaius suggests the use of magic to make Arthur temporarily lose his will to fight so they can get him out. The spell works a little too well, making him a bit puppet-like: pliable and agreeable. The continued use of enchantment to change a character’s personality seems to be lazy writing and I wish we’d see them making a conscious decision (right or wrong) instead of being forced to without their knowledge. Percival takes Arthur and Gwaine pushes Merlin to follow. Gaius pulls the rug out from under Morgana’s celebration as Arthur is gone. She tells them to ready the horses because they’re going on a hunt.

Out in the woods, the group is surprised by Elyan and we see that Arthur is essentially a lost puppy. As they’re running, they keep losing people – Gwaine and Gaius get left behind in Camelot, Percival when Morgana blasts them from a distance and finally Elyan stays to fight so Merlin & Arthur can escape. He’s captured and brought back to be tortured for information with a snake creature – he eventually gives up that they’re headed to Ealdor. Gwaine is also tortured by having to entertain aka fight for food so Gaius doesn’t starve – his reward is a moldy piece of bread.

Agravaine seems to be losing favor with the witch and before he goes on his mission to capture Arthur, he essentially swears his undying devotion to her: “I am your one true all my lady. I am your one true friend. I would do anything for you.” Not sure if she’s trying to think of a way to further exploit him or not.

In the woods, they come upon an empty hut and take the clothes there for Arthur to change into. “I probably should learn to think before I speak, shouldn’t I?” Merlin is slightly amused and when Arthur comes out in midriff top and capris, it’s all he can do not to outright laugh. Here’s the role reversal: Merlin leads the way while Arthur does everything he’s told to do because he can no longer think for himself. Bradley really hams it up and you can’t help but laugh.

They’re found by Isolde and brought to Tristan, who tires to figure out who they are and what they’ve seen. With a little gold, they join the group of smugglers discovered while helping unpack. When Merlin tells them it’s illegal, Tristan says that the half-wit King of Camelot could never catch them – and the camera pans to Arthur hugging a tree. Fireside chat number one has Merlin taking advantage of Arthur’s state by having him do chores – didn’t really enjoy seeing that as I thought it was beneath him. In the morning, Arthur is back to normal. If you thought spell-addled Arthur was funny, Bradley playing Arthur trying to be simpleton Arthur is even more hysterical.

While all this is going on, Agravaine is hot on their trail and catches up with them twice – once with the smugglers and then in Ealdor. During the fight in the woods, Tristan and Arthur argue back and forth as his disguise has been found out and Isolde is hurt. Merlin takes their new “friends” as they move into Lott’s kingdom. Has he taken over Cenred’s land since that’s where Ealdor is supposed to be?

By the fire, Arthur admits that Merlin was right about Agravaine all along. Merlin is sympathetic and doesn’t say “I told you so” as Arthur is beating himself up over being a blind fool to his uncle and Morgana. Add Uther’s betrayal from Sins of the Father and Gwen’s – Merlin is the only person Arthur thinks he can trust. It’ll make the reveal all the more painful and explosive when the time comes and Merlin knows it. In an attempt to reassure Arthur’s doubts, Merlin adamantly lists all the things that he admires about him and the young king seems amazed that someone thinks so highly of him.

Merlin & Co arrive in Ealdor and its a wonderful reunion between mother and son – Hunith is back! In her hut, Arthur apologizes to Tristan for their bad luck and Tristan’s way of accepting is saying that as long as he has Isolde, he doesn’t need anything else. This causes Arthur to pine for Gwen. Merlin and Hunith walk outside and we find out that Gwen went to Ealdor after she left Merlin in the the forest last episode.  She watches over a sleeping Arthur, taking care of his wounds. Her ministrations wake him and he says her name in disbelief while they both admit they miss each other. Slowly, Arthur embraces Gwen and it’s a very tender moment. I hope she’s not so easily let back into the fold but doubt the writers will address it.

Hunith and Merlin are waiting outside when they notice they’re surrounded. He tells everyone to escape round the back while he uses magic to distract Agravaine. However, he sees them escape and they run for their lives into the forest. It’s obvious that this is a two-parter, so maybe watching both back-to-back will make this part more enjoyable as all the action seems to be happening next week:

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  1. The comedic moments were great in this episode. And they were handled excellently by Colin Morgan and Bradley James, by both of them. Colin is really great in the comedic scenes too! He was hilarious!

  2. archaeologistD /

    I really loved the comic timing of Bradley James. He’s been a consistent high point in the series this year. I wish they’d come up with something new though. It felt too much like been there, done that. They need to move on, get to the reveal and explore the ramifications and then go into the unification of Albion.With the verbal introduction of Lot that there may be a marriage/using each other for Lot and Morgana from the legends but I doubt they’ll go that route, either.

    It’s kind of sad since there is so much rich material there. The first half of this series has been outstanding and the second half has disappointed me.

    • godannotook /

      Well Said ArchaeologistD – I did enjoy this ep because of the performances, and yes everyone rightly extols Colin Morgan’s awesome talent, but one of the best things about series 4 has been that Bradley James has repeatedly excelled – and put them together in a well written comic situation and it is just perfection.

      Really this is an exceptional cast even when I’ve been disappointed in the scripts (I agree with you on the first & second parts of S04) the players have kept me watching – and believing

      • MysticMeg /

        Fully agree with both of you. I love watching Colin and Bradley playing off each other, whether it is a funny or serious scene. I love the cheeky look on Merlin’s face when he tells Arthur that he is good at keeping secrets.

      • I’d love to recall you that Colin Morgan is excellent in his craft since episode 1 of season 1. Each episode, it is obvious he gives more than 100% of his talent and energy for his role and for his show. During this season, he is constantly excellent, in the tragic situations as well as in the comedic moments. His character is really the funniest! In this last episode, he is constant in the demontration of his talent. Bradley James wasn’t alone in those scenes. Colin Morgan was opposite of him in all his scenes and was great!

      • Sharlene Mousfar /

        Don’t get me wrong, I most definitely agree with you that Colin’s doing an amazing job this series but it seems to me (and obviously this is only my opinion) that Bradley’s been given more range to work with this year than in past seasons.

    • And it is disturbing and annoying when an actor who is constantly excellent and who does an amazing work isn’t mentionned in a professional review. Colin Morgan’s fantastic work should have been mentioned here!

      • Anna /

        VANH: It’s actually very disturbing and annoying when a “fan” continually leaves the same, cloying, comments on almost review of a show, clogs up twitter timelines and fails to recognise that there are other people in the show besides their favourite actor. Doing so under various names isn’t fooling anyone. Yes, Colin is a good actor, but he is not the greatest actor to have ever walked this earth, as you seem to be implying.

        Your continual attempts to push him down people’s throats at every opportunity is actually backfiring and making you look a complete fool. Viewers who may have simply enjoyed the show and/or Colin’s performance for what it is, actually become more critical of him in order to counteract your claims.

  3. Another review from a watcher of “Merlin”: “And yet, another amazing episode with Colin Morgan who should get all the awards.
    How did these people find such a perfect actor to play Merlin? Hell, the entire cast even?

    What a bunch of extremely talented people.

    But of course Colin Morgan, he is so wonderful.

    The way he can portray so many emotions with the perfect expressions. It hits me hard every time when I see what a truly amazing person he is. Just his..EVERYTHING..are perfect.”

  4. this episode would have been brilliant if the name of the show was arthur! Comee on have the writers forgot our hero is merlin, there has been a seriously lack of personal storylines for merlin this series, by this point i was hoping one of the knights or morgana would know about his magic, i also thought freya would return giving merlin at least one person other than gaius who really knows him…

    • I totally agree with you. This season had “Aithusa” being really about Merlin. I want to see more episodes dedicated to Merlin’s magical identity and destiny! I want to see more Merlin in a sho walled “Merlin”.

  5. Lee /

    I really like this episode. Seeing Arthur dressed as an older version of Huckleberry Finn was hilarious. I liked that Arthur and Gwen got together but I agree that they just can’t get back together- really together – that easily. I loved that Gwaine was back to being the cool character he was in series 3. Saying all that – I can’t shake a feeling of “we’ve seen that already”. Even Morgana said that capturing Camelot was the easy part. Of course it is – she has already done that at the end of the last season. One final observation/question- where did Arthur got a new chainmail? I thought he left his in the forest. Can’t believe they sell those in Ealdor:)

    • godannotook /

      maybe Hunith just happened to have a whole new suit of chain mail in her closet ? or she had actually knitted a fake one out of grey wool ? or maybe Gwen had been working as the village blacksmith and had previously run one up – just in case. Oh those continuity errors and plot holes – still i love “Merlin” despite them

  6. anyusa0030 /

    i did not enjoy the humor of the enchanted arthur because i did not agree with merlins chioce to use magic on him without even giving him the oportunity to make achoice.arthur as been in this position before when morgana took camelot and he left that time ,even though he was leaving his father and gwen the woman he loves ,so the idear that arthur will not see reason this time to me made arthur sound like unreasonable king with the worst war strategistic sense instead of loyal and brave which is what they wanted us to feel.the writers have to realise they have reached a dead end and all they can do now is revease and forward thus it will always have the feeling of been there done that untill the reveal,this was season three finale re written ,merlin even used the same lines at some point..

    • Lee /

      As far as I remember Arthur was on a quest to find the cap of life when Morgana and her sister took over Camelot. He didn’t leave Gwen and his father. As a matter of fact he came back quickly when he realized what had happened.

  7. adrienne5413 /

    “Been there, done that” has been the theme for the latter half of s4. I realized that, not only was the same basic plot used for the s3 opener and finale (seige in Camelot), but also for the s2 finale. It’s time, folks, for a reveal or at the VERY LEAST, a change in station for Merlin. Merlin’s personal story cannot move forward. If they make him advisor, that at least will give some new (hopefully) story lines. I’ve said this in other forums…these are professional writers. Is it not a prerequisite to have creativity as a storyteller? As archaeologist_d said, there is such a rich history to draw from. Why do we get the same over and over again? Do not misunderstand, I love ‘Merlin’ and believe Bradley and Colin are tremendous talents. I wish the writing lived up to the abilities of all it’s stars. Think of what the show could be. The beginning of s4 was outstanding. I felt that finally, the Merlin groove had been hit, and them !Bam! back to recycled scripts and, seriously, the SAME MAGIC PLOT LINE….snakes and mind control. Did they even do anything different the second half? Ep6-Servant of Two Masters-mind control w/snake; e7-Secret Sharer-mind control; e8-Lamia-mind control; ep9-Lancelot-mind control; ep10-Hearld of a New Age-mind control; ep11-Hunter’s Heart-NO mind control, but pretty princess (rehash of s2-ep10 and s3-ep6); ep12-Sword in the Stone-MIND CONTROL (Arthur [and Elyan w/snake])/seige on Camelot (rehash of s2-ep12x13, s3-ep12x13). Sheesh. Eps6-7 were cool (IMO) because the mind control was new, but after that…….Wow. It really sounds like I don’t like ‘Merlin’. I suppose that the beginning of s4 really showed me how good it can be. I want that back, for me, for other fans, and for the actors. The only true consistency has been how beautiful the show looks. Mr. Dale McCready (DOP) of ‘Merlin’ is excellent. Sorry for the ranting. I am looking forward to next week *crossing fingers for big changes*.

  8. Anonymous /

    Bradley James did a brilliant job of playing Arthur, particularly when he was back as regular Arthur having to continue on as simple Arthur. His vulnerability in later scenes was heartbreaking to watch.

    How much longer do we have to put up with Morgana and her tiresome storyline and performance? I think it’s time she retired to a nice little hovel in the countryside, never to be seen again.

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