TV REVIEW: Merlin Series 4, Episode 3 – The Wicked Day

Usually, one’s birthday is a time when you’re happy and in the mood to celebrate with family and friends alike. But not if you’re Prince Arthur. The castle is upbeat and buzzing as it prepares for the celebratory feast but among the entertainers, jugglers and acrobats, an assassin is ready to make sure this is one night Arthur will never forget.

We have yet to see what the rest of the series holds, but this episode is right up there with one of my all-time favorites from Series 2, The Sins of the Father. There’s a delicate balance between comedy and tragedy — it’s a fantastic effort done beautifully by Bradley James, who delivers his strongest performance to date and Colin Morgan’s understated yet emotionally charged turn.

Arthur visits with Uther and surprises the young Prince; even being ill, Uther remembers Arthur’s birthday. I thought for a moment that he was about to say it’s the anniversary of your mother’s death with the mindset he’s in. The King insists he wouldn’t miss the birthday celebrations for anything and it’s a warm, sweet moment between father and son.

During the feast, Uther looks the happiest we’ve ever seen him…other than when he was enchanted by a troll that is. Of course, Arthur is “volunteered” to get tied to a target for a knife throwing trick and has an apple stuffed in his mouth like a pig ready for roasting. While that part was humorous, the tension was so high that I was just as on edge as Merlin and Gwen were. Merlin makes sure that the last throw spears the apple and not his head. However, the apple is poisoned, so Snow White – I mean Arthur will be defenseless, leaving him wide open to nefarious plans by The Gleeman.

One of the funniest scenes is when the sedative begins to take effect — James’ comedic timing is fantastic! He plays drugged Arthur well and when he decides to go visit his father, Merlin halfheartedly protests. Why? He’s got no trousers on! That made me laugh out loud as it was unexpected; we usually get a front row seat to the shirtless show on Merlin.

The tone quickly changes though when the assassin makes his move on easy prey – a knocked-out prince in his father’s chambers. But he’d be wrong because even in that state, Arthur sees his reflection in a jug and parries the blow. He’s not in the fight long and a fallen Arthur looks to be out of for the count. In a surprise twist, Uther comes to his son’s aid – he’s lucid enough to try and protect his son. The suspense of the fight was killing me but Uther is the one who simultaneously gets dealt a mortal blow and kills the assassin. It’s a bittersweet moment as Arthur cries for help while Uther says the words he’s been waiting to hear all this time.

Uther’s not gone yet but Arthur seems to be going through some of the five stages of grief anyway – first up is denial. His refusal to believe that his father is dying has him turning to the one thing that Merlin never expected – magic. Deciding to turn into Dragoon, Merlin wants to prove that magic can be used for good in the hope that it will change Arthur’s views. But if it goes pear-shaped, then he’s lost that fight, possibly forever. Arthur informs Agravaine that he’s going to use magic. He tells his nephew that magic killed his mother and now he wants to use it to save Uther? Arthur still doesn’t know from Sins of the Father that it is Uther’s fault that Ygraine died from magic.

The scenes between Dragoon and Arthur are the most comedic of the episode as Arthur obviously remembers him from last series. Colin Morgan does an amazing job acting like an crabby old man. But the best moment is Arthur carrying Dragoon on his back and being kicked like a horse! Before he completes the healing spell, Dragoon tells Arthur everything he wants to say as Merlin – it reassures the prince but unfortunately he’s doomed to fail because of Morgana’s charm. The happiness that they’ve succeeded quickly turns to disbelief and outrage when Uther ends up dead. I didn’t think Uther’s death would be so soon to be honest. When Arthur blames himself for his father’s death, Merlin tries to convince him otherwise, but losing both his parents to magic only solidifies Arthur’s stance that magic is “pure evil”. Merlin blames himself as well even though it was truly Morgana. It’s a sad moment for both young men.

I was surprised at Morgana’s reaction to Uther’s death as well. Did she know that she’d feel his pain as he slipped away? She appears just as upset as Arthur and Agravaine doesn’t understand why. He tries to reassure her that he’ll help Arthur fail but she doesn’t look convinced, nor does she look happy about Uther’s death and Arthur’s pain. We see another layer that we haven’t really seen since she’s gone bad. Katie McGrath does a great job of showing Morgana’s vulnerability in this scene.

There are a few little bumps in the road that bothered me but they weren’t large enough to really effect the overall tone: Gwen repeating “I do XYZ thing for you Arthur.” We get it, I swear! Also the fact that Lancelot’s “death” last week seemingly never happened as not one person mentions the fallen knight. Additionally, Merlin was brave last week and is a “useless toad” this week? We need some consistency here.

One of the most visually stunning and emotionally heartbreaking scenes is when Arthur mourns over Uther lying in state. When he realizes Merlin’s been there all night, he finally calls Merlin his friend. It’s a new day in Camelot as Arthur is now King Arthur of legend and you see a change in Merlin, one of him finally becoming an adult.

But at what cost? Overall, this episode packs an emotional wallop that’s sure to leave you in tears and then wondering just how much things will change in Camelot under Arthur’s reign. Long live the King!

GS Reporter:

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  1. Balinor /

    Yeah, long live the King! (I had to write this. :D)
    Fantastic episode! Writing, directing and the cast all superb.

  2. godannotook /

    May I join you with that …. Long Live The Once & Future King ……

    very good review of a superb episode. Series 4 of Merlin is turning out to something very very special……. and there be Dragons in the next tale.

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