Merlin: Review: Series 4 Ep 13: The Sword in the Stone Part 2

With Agravaine on his trail, Tristan sapping his confidence and his self-belief shattered, Arthur faces an uphill battle to regain Camelot.  How can Merlin help him achieve his destiny?

A suitably dramatic series finale finds time for some quiet moments between the principal protagonists, some dry humour from Arthur to Merlin, words of wisdom from Gaius, the use of more than one major piece of Arthurian iconography and lore – and the unexpected return of at least one character.

It’s a key story for Merlin; it may not be the first time that someone has died as a result of his powers, but one of the deaths early on in the episode is highly important to his development as Arthur’s protector.

Detractors of the way in which the Arthur and Gwen romance has been handled this season will probably chafe at some of the developments in this episode, but quite frankly, there are certain givens within the way that the BBC is telling this story, and one of those is that Arthur and Gwen will be together – it’s central to Morgana’s hatred of Gwen, after all. Arthur’s “sister” gets a few memorable moments, particularly given director Alice Troughton’s use of slow motion and almost freeze-frame during battle sequences, with a silhouette shot that epitomises the character’s changes over the past four seasons.

Tristan and Isolde’s story plays out much as one might expect, although at one point you do wonder whether the writers have mistaken Tristan for Han Solo (there’s a scene that feels so like the farewell on the Yavin moon in the first Star Wars film that you half-expect them to disappear and reappear from out of the sun to save Arthur’s life…!)

Verdict: With a nice twist in the final scene, this is a strong end to a strong season.  8/10

Paul Simpson

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8 thoughts on “Merlin: Review: Series 4 Ep 13: The Sword in the Stone Part 2

  1. Eeee! Really looking forward to this!

    Posted by Kim | December 21, 2011, 9:16 pm
  2. Going to be so epic!

    Posted by Jean Marsden | December 21, 2011, 9:45 pm
  3. Thanks for this preview/review Paul. It sounds interesting. Looking back on S4 though I have to say that for me S4 was definitely a game of two halves. The first 7 episodes were on the whole impressive, dramatically strong and pretty sophisticated – hugely promising in fact. The episodes after that have seemed childish, confused and yet predictable. It’s as if a whole new team took over at 4.08 and sent the grown ups off on holiday.:p

    The three deaths sounds intriguing. One is obvious (Sadly. A really excellent actor who could have made his character pretty three dimiensional given the chance). I really hope that one of the other deaths doesn’t involve one of the main characters who I suspect they may view as expendable. He really isn’t.

    By the way, speaking as one of them, I very much doubt that any of the ‘detractors’ of the way the Arthur Gwen lancelot romance has been handled will be remotely surprised when the painfully contrived attempt at creating artificial conflict between Arthur and Gwen finally staggers to its blessed end. If thats in full cheesy, Disneyesque fashion,with soaring violins sunbeams and bluebirds it will simply stay true to form.

    Or – perhaps they’ll surprise me. Or perhaps not.:p

    I was interested in this though given our previous swift exchange of views:

    ” but quite frankly, there are certain givens within the way that the BBC is telling this story, and one of those is that Arthur and Gwen will be together – it’s central to Morgana’s hatred of Gwen, after all.”

    I would say that is actually a given of the legend – that Gwen marries Arthur and become queen and to that part of legend at least the producers of the show have displayed a slavish devotion. Actually quite right too – that is the legend. The complications in legend came post marriage. I personally don’t see that running away from the iconic connection of Guinevere and Lancelot – which they actually began to build very convincingly themselves in S2 – and turning A/G into what its become, was in any way necessary, indeed all its done is kill and bury any hope of ongoing dramatic tension in the relationship needed to keep real interest in it for future seasons. The show didn’t need to show infidelity; the writers could simply have suggested at complexity – thats all they needed to do – and kept the character of Lancelot in reserve. Its pretty basic storytelling really.

    Frankly the complex character who was Morgana has become such a swivel eyed lunatic who wants the throne Just Because, that all Gwen needs to do is be queen to ‘justify’ her hatred. Or support Arthur. Or keep breathing.

    In my view what they producers have done this season (and possibly in S3 as well) is make a conscious choice to remove the gift from the legends of real human dramatic tension in the relationship, and whack us over the head repeatedly instead with this True Love, Shrek and Fiona thing instead. Worst of all – and my principal reason for disliking the emphasis on it – they’ve distorted other relationships and characters to do it. Arthur’s kingdom and people don’t mean anything to him without Gwen? Seriously? Wave goodbye to the core of Arthurs character.
    I would say they’ve made the most basic and cardinal error with this storyline of telling not showing, and telling with desperate heavy-handedness at that. In fact their mallet over the head approach perhaps suggests that they don’t have that much faith in it themselves. Still at least now its coming to its fluffy conclusion.

    I’ll watch with interest to see where the ‘twist’ leaves us – whether we’re any closer to a magical reveal next season and any closer to getting the show back to its core. It was meant to be about Merlin I thought – his magic, his relationship with Prince and King Arthur and how it leads to the creation of Albion.

    Instead Merlin as a character seems to have become a sort of plot device to move on the storylines of other characters while he remains in stasis – and indeed stagnates – as a character himself. The use of Ineffectual Sorcerer! Merlin as plot mover is so far past its sell-by date its long since walked off the shelves, when they’re simultaneously telling us he’s the greatest sorcerer who ever lived. And the loss of Uther has dramatically reduced the urgency of belief in his need to hide.

    I actually think its past time the show did something truly dramatic and brave and became ‘Merlin’ again rather than Morgana’s Plot of the Week and a paean to Arthur’s love life. Its undeniable of course that pulls in ratings if that’s the sum of their ambitions but it has the potential to be so much more than cheesy teatime entertainment. The actors and directors they have in place are phenomenal. It could be something memorable if the grown ups were allowed back from their holiday. :p

    Thanks anyway for your reviews of this show Paul. They’ve always made interesting reading and I appreciate the fact that you try to take more of a dramatists view of the show rather than counting the swordfights and throws against trees. 🙂

    Posted by Marcus | December 23, 2011, 9:26 am
    • Thanks for the comments: I’m not sure where you get “three” deaths from out of my review (you may have read this elsewhere, but I’m struggling to work that out even after a second viewing). I do still wonder though how much the Lancelot plot was moved forward and/or altered because of the availability of the actor playing him. It’s one of those annoying things that unfortunately drives a lot of genre fiction and leads to story choices that might otherwise not have been made – Matthew Graham, for example, is quite clear that Life on Mars/Ashes to Ashes would have been very different had John Simm not decided quite late in the day of series 2 of LoM not to continue. (Quick plug here for the Matthew interview coming up very shortly to promote his – really enjoyable – new series Eternal Law, which I recommend to Merlin fans.)

      I think you’ll be pleased by areas in the episode that I deliberately didn’t deal with because they are spoilers or certainly could be regarded as such.


      Posted by PS | December 23, 2011, 2:28 pm
    • I know this is a little late…but Whah. Poor Arthur falls in love with and Marries Gwen and those mean old writers slut shamed her to the delight of (misogynist) oops I meant Merthurs, like yourself…but alas as of yet they have not turned her into an adultress. That’s really what you want, right….because as all women are…she’s just a weak unclean vessel whose sole purpose is to prevent Arthur from riding off in the sunset with his true love Merlin.

      Seriously rollseyes. This is not the first retelling in which Gwen does not physically cheat with Lance and it won’t be the last…get over it. More importantly don’t give up the dream just yet. The fact the while every male enchantment has been revealed and Gwen’s has not can not have gotten past you. So it’s likely it will be used in upcoming episodes to some how put Gwen i.e. (woman) at the center of paradise lost.

      Posted by So Totally Meh (@Meh819) | March 5, 2012, 1:37 am
      • Oh dear oh dear. You really don’t tolerate opinions that are contrary to your own do you? Your frankly hysterical and abusive reply is very telling for me. Where have I said that I expect the show to follow a gay storyline? I most certainly do not and the fact you leap paranoically to that conclusion is very interesting. The fact too that you and a number of other equally aggressive fans seem to see the TV character of Gwen as some kind of idealised icon of womanhood is telling. Guinevere in popular legend WAS an adulteress – the legends the show is retelling are the medieval ones and in all of those she and Lancelot had an affair. I see that many aggressive ‘shippers’ of Arthur and Gwen insist loudly that there are legends that do not show them as lovers and that is certainly quite true. But they are the legends that do not feature Lancelot. The fact that fantastic iconic dramatic storyline has been trashed is one of my disappointments – and the fact that the show seems to be pandering to fans like your good self who demand their heroes and heroines are perfect and flawless and thus immensely dull. It fascinates me that the fans who are furious that Gwen was actually treated badly for one episode (contrast the characters of Merlin and Arthur who suffer humiliations and losses regularly) and view it as an affront to feminism aren’t remotely concerned that the only two female characters in the show have been reduced to caricatures – the evil (sexy) bitch and the flawless (sexy) little woman. There isn’t one three dimensional female character in the show but it seems that isn’t what the ‘feminist’ Gwen fans want. They want perfection.

        That is my opinion; I don’t have to ‘get over’ anything, any more indeed than you do. Perhaps an understanding that other people don’t see everything as you do though, might calm you down.

        Posted by Marcus | March 5, 2012, 9:48 am
      • What the hell?! Your response to Marcus makes absolutely no sense. She thinks the Gwen-Arthur-Lancelot triangle could and should have been handled with more maturity and nuance, and somehow, you think that’s because she wants a gay relationship. The massive leap of un-logic is astonishingly laughable.

        I suppose I could always point out the fact that yes, in the legends there are plenty of versions where Gwen does not cheat on Arthur after the marriage, but in any that include Lancelot–her adultery was always involved. It was an arranged marriage (not this sugar-coated, boring as hell, Harlequin romance for little girls depicted on the show), and the infidelity was instrumental in the fall of Albion. It was crucial to the tale.

        The character of Gwen as depicted in the show is a saintly martyr who is without fault or flaw, and therefore incredibly dull and un-interesting. The only two women in the series are two extremes, one 100% perfect, the other 100%, scenery-chewing evil. The only time we have ever seen Gwen interesting and passionate was when she was speaking on behalf of the townspeople, and Arthur happened to be no where in sight at the time. It would have been fantastic and brave to show two good, noble people making a very bad mistake–because as humans, that’s what we do. We’re all morally ambiguous, we say and do the wrong things at times. The show certainly has no qualms in showing Arthur being human, being flawed and with fault, and the same goes for Merlin. (In fact, the title character of this show seems to be the only one ever denied a happy ending.) Wanting a bit of depth and dimension and yes, flaws, does not make that poster Marcus “slut-shaming” a character (still shaking my head over that term…honestly where on earth do you get this), “weak and unclean vessel”…are you even sane? Seriously?

        As it turned out, Gwen and Arthur did have their usual backlit kiss as orchestration swelled in the background. Why address their issues of trust, right? After all, this is a family show, all about war and death and betrayal and lies, genocide, fratricide, adultery, etc., but infidelity would be too much darkness and reality to handle. Makes perfect sense for those under the age of 9, or those who just think that way.

        Posted by rosell | March 5, 2012, 9:49 pm
  4. Ah – my apologies Paul. I had a quick look at another couple of ‘teaser’ articles and it must have been there. It struck me as excessive at the time which must have been why it stuck in my mind! A relief to know its less than 3 then!

    I agree that the possibility of Cabrera being unavailable for a time did arise as a possible explanation for the bizarre direction the show took with that character this season, but while I also agree that loss of an actor for a time can mould a storyline, killing Lancelot off twice for good measure seems an extreme reaction to the possibility his work in the US could have kept him busy for a time, especially since this wasn’t a main character who had to be onscreen for a large part of the season, as Sam Tyler was. They could surely have kept Lancelot alive off screen and hoped the actor might be available again for a short if crucial period if they didn’t want to recast. If they were simply reacting to his other work, this has closed all their options, and they gained only a deeply unimaginative and predictable storyline. As I’ve said- in my personal opinion, a crucial error of judgement.

    I’m very glad to hear though that there are parts of the finale which you think will be pleasing even to an increasingly disillusioned believer like myself! I would rather like to regain my faith before its too late! Coincidentally I was actually discussing the series casually tonight with another couple of adults who enjoy watching it with their children. They’re casual viewers and not looking at it from the same perspective, but when prompted they volunteered that it’s holding their interest less, the more two dimensional the characters become. They still watch though and their kids love it, which I suppose is all that matters in the end – that old Saturday PM ratings cosh!

    Thank you very much for the tip about Eternal Law. I was a huge admirer of LoM and latterly of Ashes to Ashes. Now there was a show that lost its way and its soul – and found both again, spectacularly and triumphantly, by the end! I’ll certainly look in on your interview with Matthew Graham and make sure to clock Eternal Law.

    Posted by Marcus | December 23, 2011, 11:46 pm

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