Contributor: Gregg Wright
I thought that this was a pretty effective follow-up to what was essentially the two-hour pilot to “Camelot”. Morgan’s alliance with Lot and the threat he posed was the major driving thread behind the story until now. Now with Lot out of the way, I was curious as to what would be the next major challenge Arthur had to face as king of Camelot. A lot of shows (even those with strong pilots) seem to flounder directly after a pilot. But thankfully, “Camelot” is delivering enough intriguing plot elements to hold my interest.
It does seem a bit odd that Arthur hasn’t been more visibly broken up about his mother and father’s recent deaths. It might have slowed things down a bit, but Arthur would certainly seem more human as a result. Perhaps the nature of a 10-episode season is forcing them to become more efficient with their storytelling. This might also be evident in how rushed the romance between Arthur and Guinevere feels. I’m not too bothered by this, because it’s not a storyline I wanted a lot of time spent on anyway, so it’s just as well that they’re doing it now rather than later. One of the things I like about the storyline is that Leontes is presented as a very decent and heroic individual (to such a degree that he makes Arthur seem like kind of a dork in comparison). He doesn’t deserve to be cheated on. So whether Arthur and Guinevere feel any guilt, we certainly do.
Morgan is quite obviously still plotting to take back the throne, but I’m not entirely sure of how she feels toward Arthur at this point. Arthur wants to befriend her, but it seems likely that none of Morgan’s concern for Arthur is real. Though I must admit, through a combination of the writing and Eva Green’s acting, she was convincing enough that I almost fooled into forgetting how obvious her motivations were in the pilot.
I think what I liked the most about the episode was the interactions between Merlin and Morgan. And on a similar note, I’m really enjoying how this show handles magic: as a dangerous, unknown force that one meddles with at their own risk. If magic can be made believable, then I think that this is one of the best ways to do it. Morgan seems to be still in her early stages as a sorceress, but her capacity for treachery and cunning are already well-developed. So one can imagine how dangerous she can become as a villain once she gains more power from this magic she’s tapping into. I liked that we got an actual explanation for why Merlin seems averse to openly advertising his powers. He avoids using them out of principle, apparently. Though I think another motivation may be that appearing to not have powers gives him an advantage against unaware opponents.
The other point that interests me is that Merlin has been expressing actual concern to Morgan about her dealings with magic, or whatever force or being she seems to be periodically making contact with in the wild. Merlin knows what it is, and I think he has good reason to warn Morgan off. The cinematography and sound effects (combined with a few visual effects) go a long way toward making the scenes involving magic feel gritty and surreal, and I think the overall effect makes it all feel simultaneously more fantastic and more grounded. The “Lord of the Rings” films seemed to take a similar approach to magic and fantasy in general, which is probably one of the biggest reasons those movies appealed to me so much. Sure, we’re dealing with elements that inherently defy reality, but I like that “Camelot” is making an actual effort to suspend my disbelief.
Aside from Merlin and Arthur’s visit to Morgan’s castle and the secret relationship between Arthur and Guinevere (which will most certainly come back to haunt both of them at some point), the other main plot involved Leontes and Kay’s efforts to recruit Gawaine into service of the king. It seems a rather logical next step to recruit a skilled warrior for Camelot, especially after losing so many soldiers in the fight against Lot (which Leontes even mentions in the episode). And I’m always glad to see a classic Arthurian knight enter the proceedings. Gawaine’s introduction could have been a bit more memorable, but the character’s real chance to show off his skill as a warrior is likely yet to come.
I’m enjoying “Camelot” quite a bit so far, even if I’m still not sold on the protagonist. The production values (namely the location shooting and the music) are a big selling point for me. But that wouldn’t be enough without the writing and acting. The cast is well-chosen, for the most part. And the writing seems to point to early planning. So the quality has the potential to remain at this level for the entire season.