Merlin, Season 4, Ep 13: THE SWORD IN THE STONE (Pt 2)


Director: Alice Troughton
Writer Julian Jones

I’ve been remiss in my viewing of Merlin, but as usual, complete in slow-mo, episode 13 begins with a “previously” that brings me up to date with Morgana and Agravaine’s escapades, complete with the question as to how she manages to attack the King’s castle, who has an army at his disposal and not just the knights of the round table.

Anyway, I’m guessing that’s one of the things thats explained in previous episodes.

Tristan and Isolde, and the meeting with Arthur, where nothing of Lancelot is mentioned – as per usual, the trick of the Merlin writers is to pretend questions need not be asked and their audience will be too gung-ho on the legend coming true, rather than the story making sense.

Anyway, Merlin, Tristan and Isolde, Gwen and Arthur are running off into the woods to escape Agravaine when Merlin sends the others off telling them he’ll cover their tracks. What he means is that he’s going to Kilgharrah to make BBQ-ed baddies, and as the others are escaping, the dragon continues on his attack. In the meantime after some perfunctory banter, Merlin and Arthur argue about which direction to go, before continuing on into the caves. Behind him Arthur overhears Gwen defending him to Tristan, and looks embarrassed at the questions.

Soon enough, they realize that Agravaine is still following them and Merlin insists he knows enough of these tunnels to get rid of Agravaine and his baddies. Arthur left with no choice agrees to let him go and Merlin leads Agravaine and his knights into a dead end, it seems, of a cave where Merlin uses his magic to knock them all unconscious.

Agravaine, however, it seems is used to being knocked around by magic – Morgana, I’m guessing, since she pretty much rules him in his world – recovers quickly and points to Merlin saying “you have magic” in a voice filled with childlike wonder. I don’t think that’s what they were going for, but that’s what I got from it. Merlin however, is cold and remote and more than a little tired – I hear you Merlin – of the way things are going. Agravaine realizes he’s Emrys, and is impressed at Merlin’s deception at court of Arthur.

Agravaine, being Agravaine, attacks Merlin and Merlin defends himself easily and Agravaine dies. Merlin leaves him, his face twisting in disgust – at himself and Agravaine. Meanwhile, Arthur turns back for Merlin, for no reason other than a feeling, emphasizing the BFFs forever relationship between them. Tristan is surprised as Merlin is just a “servant”, while Gwen still defends Arthur. Some of Merlin’s façade finally cracks when he runs into Arthur looking for him, and Arthur finally admits he’s the only friend Arthur has, and he couldn’t bear to lose him. Arthur being Arthur completely undoes the moment in his usual Arthurish way.

The five-some emerge at the end of the tunnel where Arthur voices his plan to head to King Lot, despite as Tristan points out, him not being a friend of the Pendragons. It’s obvious Arthur knows as much, but he isn’t left with much choice. Gwen wants to find a place to rest, but again Tristan points out they’re fugitives and no one will help them. Merlin wants to hide in the forest until they can head back to Camelot, to which, after prodding from Tristan in a very Arthur-ish prattish way, agrees.

In the dungeons of Camelot, Elyan is watching over a sick Gaius, when Gwaine is taken away to provide amusement for Morgana.

I confess I am sick and tired of Morgana as a character. She is a one note character, built up through the expanse of the season to be stronger than Merlin, stronger than Arthur as a king in order to get her forces around her to take the castle, so that she can be defeated in the end. Not once in the entire season is there a balance between Morgana and Merlin to show viewers that how and why these two challenge each other. Instead, lazy writing turns to an aged Emrys to show how much Morgana is afraid of him.

And back to the episode. Tristan and Arthur are picking firewood and Tristan seems to be mocking Arthur for what he’s done all episode. I half see something Arthur-ish in the mocking, but challenging as well. Back at camp, a pensive Arthur walks off, and Gwen runs after him. Arthur turns her away, telling her everything between them is gone and Gwen apologises again for everything and walks off.

Morgana, having got her jollies off with Gwaine fighting gives them moldy bread for supper. It’s a mercifully short scene, before the focus goes to the Gaius knowing he’s dying and wanting to give Gwaine his supper.

Back at the camp, Merlin tries to talk to Arthur, trying to figure out what’s the matter. Arthur confesses he trusted the wrong people, voicing what he suspected about mid-season, which is beyond aggravating. Merlin tries to encourage him to be more discerning in choosing who to trust, to be wise, while Merlin does his utmost to remind Arthur that his people love him. Arthur tells Merlin that those who survived will have to themselves a new king.

This sends Merlin to Kilgharrah, telling him about Arthur and the loss of his faith. The Dragon tells Merlin to make Arthur believe he can be king once more and it’s enough to give Merlin an idea. Merlin asks him to find the people who fled Camelot, and the next morning, Merlin’s plan is put into motion.

He wakes Arthur and leads him into the forest where Merlin tells Arthur about a “tale” Gaius once told him. Merlin tells him about the birth of the 5 kingdoms, a childhood tale every child in Camelot knows. But there is more to the story, Merlin says, for the Pendragon ancestor, Bruter, who led the division of the 5 kingdoms and made peace between them long ago asked to be taken to the forest on his deathbed, where with the last of his strength he thrust his sword into a rock, and only a true king of Camelot could pull the sword free. Arthur doesn’t believe him for he’s never heard of it before, until Merlin shows Arthur Excalibur in the rock and Arthur begins to believe his story. As they come to it, the rest of the people and the knights who fled Camelot appear and a unpleasantly surprised Arthur asks Merlin what’s going on, for he fears he’s about to made into a fool as the sword is pretty much stuck in the stone. Arthur won’t believe the story, or his own strength, but he’ll believe Merlin, which speaks to the hold Merlin has on him. He tries to pull the sword, and is unsuccessful, while in the background Merlin encourages him to believe in himself…

….and I would have believed in this scene much more if Merlin didn’t use magic to help Arthur pull the sword from the stone.  jawdrop

I cannot believe this show took Arthur’s rule, his confidence in himself and placed them all in Merlin’s hands. There is not enough  jawdrop in the world for the ridiculousness of the meaning behind this scene. I love Merlin, I truly believe he has a part to play in Arthur’s rule, but is Arthur’s rule – within this series – really this dependent on Merlin?
Until now, the show was, in its own way, letting Arthur grow into being a king and a better character. Is this the only way they know how to continue it? When he finds out Merlin has magic, will he ever question this? Or will be a pesky plot point forgotten because the show ends?  whattf

Helios comes to report on Agravaine’s death and on the presence of a dragon. Morgana realizes it’s the work of Emrys and is properly scared, but honestly, she’s scared of a construct we as an audience will never see. What if she suspected Emrys was Merlin? How different would this scene be? On the upside, it’s again short before we return to the camp to see Arthur mustering his troops and a point is made that Morgana has an army within Camelot. I’m really missing something, because Camelot, as one of the 5 kingdoms seems to have an army every other time it’s needed except now. Arthur’s mood has grown better and more confident, and just in time for Tristan and Isolde to see his knights offer their lives for him.

Later, Gwen passes by just as Tristan gives Isolde a bouquet, just because. In the distance, Arthur is walking through the camp, and Isolde seeing Gwen watching him tells her not to give up hope.

Merlin catches up to Arthur, who tells Merlin that he fears Morgana’s power – I don’t think I could roll my eyes any harder at this point – and Merlin continues Gaius’ “story”. The story goes, it seems, that the man who freed it would be the greatest king Albion has ever known, and Arthur doesn’t believe it, though Merlin does a good job of convincing him so.

That night, Merlin goes back into the castle as Emrys, lingering just long enough for Morgana to catch sight of him. She panicks, and sends her guards after him, but Merlin evades them and casts a spell before he escapes, in his usual age, and in a cloak of abad guy he knocked out.

Morgana is overcome with fear and emotion at seeing Emrys, and it is up to Helios to be properly consoling, before waxing lyrical about how Emrys being so scared of her, which is about when I fall down laughing, and wonder how and why these writers even have female characters on this show if their writing of them is such a bad rollercoaster.  Like all big bad men who are in charge, Helios actually tells her to rest, and she actually obeys, ordering that he make sure there are guards at the door.

Excuse me while I fall down laughing some more.

I don’t care if this is a plot point to tie into the reason for Merlin sneaking into the castle as Emrys, for underneath her bed we see the doll Merlin was burning earlier, this is just laughably bad.

The next morning, Tristan and Isolde make nice with Arthur, and with violins swelling in the background they join the fight, standing together as equals according to Arthur. Next, Gwen takes charge and tells Arthur she understands why he can’t forgive her, but that she never stopped loving him.

Wow. The writers are really just going to leave that whole Lancelot episode hanging. Again, WOW at the bad writing.  whattf

The knights, and everyone else, beginning their attack of Camelot, making their way into the castle. Unfortunately the alarm is soon raised, and stealth is forgotten in the name of the attack. Helios goes to wake Morgana up – still laughing about that one – and they wait for Arthur to come to them, for that is what Morgana knew he would do. In the dungeons, Percival frees Gwaine, Elyan and Percival and Percival, the gentle giant that he is, carries Gaius out.

Meanwhile, Arthur, Tristan and Isolde, Merlin and Gwen reach the final guards at the door to Morgana and Helios. They break into the throne room, where Morgana is waiting for Arthur and they finally face off. Arthur cannot understand her any more, and wait for it, the writers do not disappoint in turning to their usual plot point of Morgana blaming Arthur for Uther’s acts, and using the nonsensical parts of this season, of Arthur being so utterly OOC as evidence to bolster Morgana’s reasoning for hating Arthur. As always, the death and destruction is brings is always because of someone else and never a choice she makes. I’m fairly certain by now, that will always be Morgana’s motivation and every other character will have to suffer through episodes to add to that less than paper-thin characterization.

They each accuse each other of being like Uther, with Morgana’s righteous indignation at the accusation apparent.

So, Morgana casts a spell…and nothing happens. Merlin is trying his best not to look smug, and succeeds admirably. Helios – who actually reminds me of the Rock from that Babysitter movie he did – stays behind to take on Arthur while Morgana escapes fights her way to freedom and OMG, are the writer’s just not bothering making sense this last episode? Where did Morgana get sword skills to better the knights of Camelot?

So, while Morgana kills off what little is left of Arthur’s miniscule army – they clearly don’t make knights like they used to – Merlin goes off in search of her. One knight does manage to spill her blood, but nope, she’s better than he is.

Meanwhile, Helios manages to get the better of Arthur, and just as he is about to kill him Isolde kills the Babysitter, and gets a sword in her belly for her troubles.

In the meantime, Gwen and Morgana fight, and Gwen asks her Morgana why she hates her so much, Morgana delivers a cryptic line about what she is destined to do and that she can never let that happen. Just as Morgana is about to kill her, Merlin uses his magic and kills Morgana. Merlin explains to Gwen that he does not know what happened, and instead of looking like he’s lying, he genuinely looks like he doesn’t know what happened. (ETA this is because she’s not lying where he expected her to be but that wasn’t a scene that was included in the ep I watched)

In the throne room, Isolde is dying in Tristan’s arms, apologising for not being able to fulfill their dreams. Arthur is devastated at what he is hearing, and Gwen and Merlin come in, in time to see Isolde die.

The next day, Gwen is cleaning up Arthur’s rooms, when Arthur walks in. She asks if he wants her to return to Ealdor, and he says he wants her to stay instead. She insists she cannot forgive herself for what she’s done, and Arthur reiterates that he doesn’t ever want to lose her…and asks her to marry him.

And cue, the wedding! Or crowning really. Just as Morgana saw it in her visions. So, in one finale, there is the sword in the stone and Arthur and Gwen married. Does this mean season 5 has to focus on Merlin? I would hope so.

In the forest, Morgana is stumbling along, still hurt from the sword fight in the castle, and Merlin’s magic. She dies alone there, but the little brat that is Aithusa arrives and saves her. Dragon breath does that.

So all of Kilgharrah’s “a white dragon will bring about a golden age of Camelot” bits? Not so much. Eh, with these writers, you never can tell what nonsense they’re going to come up with next – I would half expect Kilgharrah to have sent Aithusa along to keep Morgana alive until something else happens that he thinks needs to happen. Either way, if Morgana decides she can become a dragon lord next season in order to speak and control Aithusa, or finds another way of doing it so another part of Merlin is less special – as everything he can do, she can do better and bigger – I will be content to say goodbye to this show.

After a strong start to this season, that had me looking forward to what the rest of the episodes could bring, the writers unfortunately faltered and much of the second half of the season was a muddled mess of bad characterization as they rushed along to an ending at all costs and sacrificing everything they could in order to get The Sword in the Stone and the Arthur/Gwen marriage out of the way.

Worst of all, Arthur isn’t a character that can stand on his own any longer, he is Merlin’s plaything, dancing along to whatever tune he wants, including unfortunately one of the things viewers were waiting to see for 4 seasons now – pulling the sword from the stone. Merlin was in control in that scene, manipulating Arthur instead of Arthur as a character doing something on his own. I would have liked to have believed in the “magic” that would have let Arthur pull the sword from the stone and surprised Merlin the same breath because he knows he wasn’t the one that performed a spell to make it happen. Instead, of Merlin encouraging Arthur to be a better king and to believe in himself, it is a manipulation of Arthur, who went from a strong beginning this season, to being weak-willed and unable to do much without Merlin to prop him up.

Unfortunately, this finale is par for the course of Merlin writers – the legends must be followed, characterization of the previous episodes be damned. Sometimes, I feel like the Merlin writers are laughing at audiences for being satisfied with episodes they know could be better and aren’t.