TV REVIEW: Merlin Series 5, Episode 1 – Arthur’s Bane (Pt 1)

It’s that time of year again; Merlin‘s newest series premiered tonight and it’s a bit of a slow-burner – not entirely unexpected given that this is a 2-part premiere. The seeds of Camelot’s destruction are being sown and it’s up to Merlin to stand between Arthur and a fate that has been written since the dawn of time.

The episode, penned by head writer Julian Jones (who we just interviewed the other day) definitely lives up to its predecessors as there’s a more dramatic, adult feel to the show from the get-go.

Jumping 3 years ahead, we see Camelot at the height of its golden age with Queen Guinevere and the Knights of the Round Table at Arthur’s side. As the saying goes, all good things must come to an end and that end starts with a “Mor”. Production values on the show have increased greatly and co-creators Julian Murphy and Johnny Capps are quite happy with the comparisons some have made to Game of Thrones‘ snowy landscape.

And that’s not the only GoT reference in the opener. Sir Davos himself, Liam Cunningham guest stars as Ruadan, a sorcerer working with Morgana to destroy Arthur. We only know that he’s helping Morgana find a key – the answer to what or who Arthur’s bane is and she’s getting impatient. That leads us back to Camelot in a scene that reminds me very much of how last season’s premiere opened – with Merlin frantically running around finding something for Arthur.

This time though he shows up empty-handed because what he’s looking for isn’t an object but Guinevere, who’s running late due to her new maidservant, Sefa. There’s a bit of Arthur berating Merlin per usual – but it falls a little flat as you’d hope Arthur would have moved on from that by this point. Regardless, the meeting at hand is to discuss the missing patrol lead by Sir Gwaine (and Sir Percival who isn’t mentioned at all. Poor Percy.) While determining a solution, you can see Guinevere’s increased role in providing her husband council and Angel Coulby plays her wonderfully.

There’s a bit of flirting between Merlin and Sefa as well, which was a welcome sight as Merlin needs a little love in his life! That along with some great bickering between Arthur and Merlin are some lighter moments in an otherwise heavy episode.

We then see what’s happening up in the Northern Plains – Gwaine and his men are chased down by Morgana’s wolves and taken hostage to dig through rubble underneath Ismere. She’s looking for the key to Arthur’s destruction and Ruadan promises that it’s beneath their feet. She and patience are old friends apparently but Morgana’s looking pretty desperate and impatient to me! When I said it’s raining men? It really is; plenty of dirty, shirtless Tom Hopper and Eoin Macken for all to drool over as they work tirelessly to find what Morgana wants.

After taking the Queen’s advice to go through the west to take their enemies by surprise, Arthur and his crew come upon a village that has been destroyed, everyone killed. Except one – a druid seer that Merlin stumbles upon and he is the one who gives the young warlock the shock of his life. Seeing someone strike Arthur down in a vision. It throws him off for the rest of the episode – even Arthur is perceptive enough to pick up on it several times.

Arthur and Merlin are met by our second, returning guest star, Queen Annis. She was one of my favorites from last series so nice to see her back and getting along with Arthur this time. Invited to dinner, she asks Arthur’s “fool” to entertain them. Seeing Arthur’s complete shock at Merlin’s skillful juggling was pretty funny. This is one of many moments where Merlin’s frustration echoes what many of us have previously voiced – that he’s sick and tired of being thought of as an idiot with no skills – because we know and he knows that this has never been the case. It was nice to see Arthur’s concern throughout the latter half of the episode. Maybe he’s matured after all?

While away, Gwen won’t play. She sees Sefa leave the castle one night and teases her about her “secret love” the next day. Little does she realize that her  innocent maidservant is Britney Spears and therefore not that innocent. When her husband and friends don’t return – the Queen shows a colder, more ruthless side and I like it! This makes for a more interesting character than we’ve seen previously. Gwen puts two and two together and realizes that Sefa is their mole; she sentences her to death. The shock on her brother’s face is enough to know that this decision is a shock to everyone.

Thanks to Sefa’s hidden agenda and subsequent betrayal, Merlin, Arthur and his men are ambushed on their way to Ismere. This is one of the best battle scenes I’ve seen on the show – almost tied with the one in “The Sword in the Stone”. Merlin will do anything to protect Arthur and drags his liege to safety. On the run and hungry, they fall into a trap – this time it was the bunnies! They’re cut loose but before their captors can kill either of them, a new, old face returns – Mordred.  And he hasn’t forgotten what Merlin did to him the last time they met.

Merlin realizes just who it was he saw kill Arthur in his vision and the stoney glare he gives doesn’t seem to intimidate the younger man at all. Alexander Vlahos plays him well and gets Asa Butterfield’s deadly smirk out of the way fairly quickly. Back in the caves, a curious Gwaine explored a passageway due to a flickering light only to get caught and beaten.

But he wasn’t seeing things – it was…a healing martian? I honestly didn’t know what to make of the being. I assume that he/she/it is the key Morgana’s looking for but it reminded me of the last Indiana Jones movie when it was revealed that aliens created the crystal skull.

Overall though, the episode is an interesting return and it remains to be seen how the rest will all play out but I for one, am excited to find out! What did you all think of the episode?

Rating: 3.5/5

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  1. So I’m REALLY thrown my the Merlin Martian. I sure hope they explain that bit of WTF’ery quickly. Not a fan of the crystal skull.

    Good review. My goodness but there was some unabashed fan-servicing with Percival and Gwaine. Not that I’m complaining but … woah. I did love Gwaine’s comment about he and Morgana have to stop meeting this way. Please have these two interact some more.

    I’m glad Merlin is voicing our thoughts regarding his skills. I felt bad for Sefa even though she’s one of the “baddies” she sure seemed like a “goodie”. Grrrr. Moral greyness here we come.

    • Sharlene Mousfar /

      I did like Sefa – hoped she would have stuck around more for some fun flirty scenes with Merlin but alas! I guess we don’t actually know yet what will happen to her though. The Merlin Martian (I like that!) is still throwing me a bit but overall, it was a good set-up episode to all the action that will likely occur in part 2.

  2. godannotook /

    I truely loved this episode I was well pleased with this beginning … almost too many things to note, but with regard to Sefa the fact that she was not an out and out snarling smirking evil baddie is a reflection of the greater maturity to the storytelling, it made Gwen’s decision all the more difficult …the “hard choices” of ruling a kingdom in dark and dangerous times, and Angel Colby did a lovely job of showing Gwen over come her fear for the still “missing” Arthur and anger at the betrayal to pass sentence with controlled authority. It was inevitable in the circumstances .. but I hope we have some follow up with Elyan next week.

    It was also interesting was that Sefa was given a motive … and it was was loyalty to her father, as right from the start “Merlin” has had a strong theme of the relationships between fathers and children, Uther’s influence of Arthur & Morgana obviously, but also the very brief but very powerful connection of Merlin and Balinor (I wish they would let us see that Merlin still has the wooden dragon) and Gaius as surrogate father to Merlin. There are lots of references to paternal influence, back in the series 1 “Lancelot” episode commentary when Johnny Capps and director Ed Fraiman talk in the scene after the killing of the griffin of “love & proud feelings between fathers and sons”

    The visuals were stunning, and I know Game of Thrones is often seen as an influence, but I saw references to Lord of the Rings, especially “Fellowship of the Ring” ……. Merlin & Arthur hiding under the tree roots with Morgana on horseback on the path above them has to be an echo of the hobbits hiding from the black rider on the road to Bree, and the brilliant ambush at dawn in the wood had the feel of the fight with the Uruk-hai Path Galen.

    As for the glowing blue spirit ? alien ? being it’s new and different and nothing wrong with that – I like that it’s a puzzle, anyway it seems benign and belevolent towards Gawaine – which is fine by me

  3. Nimueh123 /

    A little glowy Martian… What was that all about?? Not doubt he/she/it has to do with the key Morgana is looking for. Still….
    Apart from that I loved it. IMO the Merlin/Arthur relationship has changed. Yes there is banter, but it is actually only that – banter. I could also feel underlying respect and acceptance between the two. Whereas in previous episodes I sometimes conceived Arthur snide remarks towards Merlin hurtful, I did not feel that this time. Merlin gives as good as he gets – and Arthur accepts this in good humour.
    And he looks after Merlin in a very kind warm manner when he realises that Merlin is not quite himself.
    So for a start I am quite happy with that – hopefull Merlin’s impatience to tell Arthur ‘all he is capable of’ will lead to a reveal eventually. You can feel that he really wants to tell Arthur, but knows he can’t,, yet.
    Morded was fab. Looks matching the chilly north passed between him and Merlin, once the latter realises who Mordred is.
    All in all – little alien excluded – a very promising first episode!

  4. Mai /

    Kuddos to Colin Morgan for his fantastic work in this new episode, once again. All the emotions showing in his eyes make us feel what he feels. Did you know that in the Merlin juggling scene, Colin Morgan juggles for real, without any special effect? Great job! Love this man and his character!

    • Nimueh123 /

      Yeah I was really stunned to find out he actually learned to juggle. If you have ever tried it you know that this is quite impressive – particularly with 4 balls!!

      • Mai /

        Yes and it wasn’t even balls, they were four real eggs! Colin Morgan is really fantastic and his work is impressive. He’s a star.

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