Contributor: Gregg Wright
This episode feels very much like a continuation of the previous episode’s developments. Arthur has Kay, Leontes, and Gawain (among others) out planting numerous flags bearing the symbol of Camelot out among the reaches of the kingdom, as a way to make the people aware that, as citizens of Camelot, they are protected. Merlin soon rides up and recruits Kay, Leontes, and Gawain for a mission to return to Arthur and Kay’s home to retrieve their father’s collection of books, so that they can establish a library in Camelot. Merlin considers it to be a pretty big priority. Kay has mixed feelings about returning home, given the recent deaths of his parents.
Meanwhile, Gwen receives word that her father is dying, and immediately sets out on her own to see him. Arthur soon hears of this and rushes out on his own to catch up with her. Apparently, the kingdom is still in quite a bit of turmoil. Numerous groups of bandits seem to be marauding about, killing innocent people wherever they go. Merlin and company come across the aftermath of one attack. And at one point Arthur and Guinevere are attacked, giving Arthur a chance to show off how much more accomplished a warrior he has become.
For the third story thread, it’s back to Morgan’s castle, where she’s still working hard to gain the people’s favor. I think the whole thing is handled a lot better this time than it was the previous episode. I could actually believe that the people would be fooled by her shows of fairness and compassion. And that little complication of Sybil becoming a liability was a good way of giving us more information about the fire at the monastery and the part she played in it. It also seems to raise more questions than it answers.
The dark entity or force that seems to give Morgan her powers is also hinted at again. Well, I suppose it’s more than hinted at. Sybil outright states that, though the nuns at the monastery accepted God, they could not deny that there are still other forces at work (relating to neither God or the Devil) that demand that a girl be chosen every year for some unknown purpose. Morgan was obviously one of these girls.
The episode also doles out a bit more information about Merlin’s magic. Merlin is normally pretty tight-lipped about his abilities, so it felt a bit off for him to be just openly explaining them to Leontes, Gawain, and Kay. Most of what he said could easily be extrapolated from previous events already, but there were some new bits of information to consider. Merlin claims that he was not born with his powers, and didn’t obtain them through study either, and his explanation of where they came from is pretty ambiguous. He claims that his powers came from “thought… made manifest”.
Leontes’ belief that Merlin’s powers came from God, or that Merlin must be an angel, might also be irrational. But I don’t blame Leontes for feeling that it would make more sense than Merlin’s answer. Merlin then goes on to explain that he only has power over the elements (fire, wind, water, earth), though only in a limited capacity. The greater the show of power, the greater the cost on his body, his soul, and on the people around him. This up-front exposition is a bit of an inelegant way of expanding on Merlin’s abilities. But I suppose Merlin would have to explain it all eventually, utilizing his characteristic blend of ambiguity and bluntness.
Dreams and visions are becoming a pretty commonly recurring theme in this show. Merlin has had prophetic dreams, which could be another power he’s not mentioned yet. But Arthur has had a prophetic dream as well, of Guinevere. And now, Guinevere dreams of her father before hearing news of his failing health, and then again later while on the way to see him with Arthur. Kay has a waking vision of his father (Sean Pertwee returns to play Ector) and he and Arthur as children, which leads him to Ector’s secret stash of books. The source of these dreams and visions might be left as a mystery for the remainder of the show. But there’s plenty of mysterious goings on that we’re likely to receive some answers about, eventually.
The concept of death and the afterlife is another concept dealt with in the episode. Unfortunately, I thought the episode was a bit too heavy-handed in its approach, particularly when it came to Gwen and Arthur. The two of them talk about what the stars are, suggesting various primitive beliefs, eventually settling on the comforting notion that the stars are their lost loved ones watching over them. Merlin would probably scoff at this. It’s understandable that most of the characters would be Christian at the time, but I think the subject matter could have been handled a little bit better. I do like the unusual, perhaps slightly subversive concept of a nun who panders to other, seemingly supernatural forces separate from God. And it makes sense that Merlin would be an atheist, preferring to see things in more grounded terms.
This rekindling of Arthur and Gwen’s relationship was pretty inevitable. Arthur’s growth as a king had made him become pretty mature about the whole thing. He seemed ready to accept that Gwen was not his to chase after. So it seems fitting that Gwen would have to be the one to make the move. No sex this time, but the two of them aren’t going to be able to keep their hands off each other for long. I didn’t hate the further coverage of their relationship as much as I thought I would. The reason I disliked it before was because it made Arthur out to be a pretty pathetic, extremely selfish king. But the character has made a lot of progress since then, so it was a lot easier to respect Arthur in spite of his feelings for Gwen.
This is another relatively satisfying episode of “Camelot” that progresses most of the important arcs. But like the previous episode, it’s a bit weak when compared to the first four episodes of the season. And though this may not be a genuine flaw, it certainly feels like something of a slow point in the season. The viewership numbers dropped below a million for the third episode, and have remained there ever since. But I don’t know if that’s good or bad for a Starz show. Hopefully we’ll hear news of a renewal before too long.