Entertainment Magazine

Review #3920: Merlin 5.3: “The Death Song of Uther Pendragon”

Posted on the 22 January 2013 by Entil2001 @criticalmyth

Contributor: Gregg Wright

Written by Howard Overman
Directed by Justin Molotnikov

One of the most prominent central themes of “Merlin” (particularly in the previous season) has been the contrast between Arthur and his more ruthless father, Uther Pendragon. The show has made the point rather well that Arthur is a better man and a better ruler than his father ever was, but it has also made the point that there’s still plenty of room for improvement for Arthur. “The Death Song of Uther Pendragon” takes the threat of Arthur’s Bane and puts it at center stage. The result is a strong stand-alone episode, but one that feels weakened by its enslavement to the episodic structure of the show.

Review #3920: Merlin 5.3: “The Death Song of Uther Pendragon”

At the very least, it’s great to see Anthony Stewart Head back. I was disappointed to see him leave the show, so I appreciate that he was willing to make a brief return. I always thought that his departure was extremely premature. This episode attempts to resolve that dangling thread, and it does so about as well as any single episode could. But I’m disappointed that this wasn’t expanded into a multi-episode story arc. The resolution would have been a lot more meaningful if more time could have been spent building up to it.

Considering that the resolution is where the potential for a longer story arc is put to rest, the strongest elements of the episode occur before that point. I’d especially like to point out the re-union between Arthur and Uther in the realm of the dead as being one of the strongest scenes of the entire show. Arthur’s disappointment at seeing his beloved father again, only to have Uther tell him that he is disappointed in him, really effectively drives home the self-doubt that Arthur begins to feel.

Were the show more willing to engage in serialized storytelling, this could have been a great moment to re-introduce Uther as a villain, who would eventually find redemption or be cast out by Arthur in a pivotal, climactic moment. This could have allowed Arthur to grow much more than he could in just a single episode, further driving Arthur to become the king that he’s meant to be. Or, it would make things even worse; better exemplifying the threat from Arthur’s Bane (which, as you’ll remember, is himself, after all).

Probably one of the most satisfying moments of the episode is the scene where Merlin finally reveals himself to Uther–as a wizard. The former king is, of course, horrified to discover that magic was right beneath his nose for so long. Were Merlin less interested in making enemies, he might have used this to try to convince Uther that he’s been wrong about magic. It has been used to protect his kingdom from an almost countless number of magical threats over the years. Merlin does at least let out a cry of “I was born with it!” to drive home the point that he didn’t ask for his magic.

Still, it’s always satisfying when Merlin gets to reveal himself to someone. And seeing as how Uther just finished telling Merlin that he’s just a servant boy, once again displaying his bigotry towards those of a lower caste, it’s particularly satisfying to see Merlin finally getting a chance to stick it to him. Though, of course, the only reason this can happen is because Arthur shows up a moment later and sends Uther back to the land of the dead, before Uther can say anything about Merlin.

This episode certainly could have been more. But in the context of the entire show, this is definitely an above-average effort. I prefer these straightforward episodes with decent plotting, characterization, and theme, where the humorous bits are actually funny. It still boggles my mind that “Merlin” can go from something like this to doing a fart joke-laden atrocities such as “Goblin’s Gold”; an episode that seemed to make my eyes and ears bleed (and from the same writer as this episode, no less!). So no, this season hasn’t majorly slipped up yet. But there’s still plenty of time for that.

Score: 8/10

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