As someone who is an avid attendee of renaissance festivals, I am fairly well versed in the realm of knights, jousting, magic, and dragons. Merlin was a show I was eagerly awaiting for some time, and it (mostly) did not disappoint.
(Spoilers after the jump)
Episode 1 of this series, entitled “The Dragon’s Call,” begins with a young man approaching a kindgom. We come to find out that the young man is called Merlin, and the kingdom Camelot.
What’s this you say? You’ve heard this tale before? Let me finish the tale before you run off. Sent by his mother to a man named Gaius for training, Merlin is a teenager – if you could call someone of his era a teenager – who has been born with magical abilities. All he knows, however, is that he can move objects with his mind; he does not know that what he is doing is considered magic.
Magic in Camelot is forbidden. King Uther has prohibited it within the kingdom, due the chaos he believes it caused twenty years ago. As Merlin enters Camelot, he is startled to witness an execution of someone found guilty of practicing magic. After the execution occurs, an old woman comes forth and vows that she will take “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” from King Ulther; it is her son who was killed for practicing magic. Before she can be caught for her spoken threat, however, she vanishes in a puff of smoke.
We are then introduced to Gaius, the Court Physician, who is immediately made aware of Merlin’s gift: Gaius falls from the balcony of his main room, and would have sustained great injury if not for Merlin magically shifting a bed underneath him to cushion his fall. Even though Gaius is grateful for Merlin’s actions, he warns him to keep his magic abilities a secret: if Merlin is found out, he would suffer death.
Merlin is then given the task of delivering potions that Gaius has prepared. On his errands, Merlin sees another young man bullying a nearby servant, and calls him out on his actions. For his trouble, he is sent to the prison, where he is rescued by Gaius. Before he is rescued, however, he falls asleep and dreams of someone calling his name.
Even though Gaius rescued him, Merlin is given the lesser punishment of time in the stocks, while children throw tomatoes and other vegetables at him. It is while he spends his time in the stocks that he meets Gwen, Lady Morgana’s maid servant. She commends him for standing up to Prince Arthur earlier, and the two begin to strike a bond with each other.
Meanwhile, King Uther awaits the appearance of Lady Helen, a singer who will perform at a celebratory feast that will take place to mark twenty years of peace, harmony, and no magic in Camelot. Before Lady Helen gets to the castle, however, the old woman from earlier approaches Lady Helen and works her magic with a straw doll (hinting at voodoo) and kills her. Then, the old woman takes Lady Helen’s guise.
Gaius tells Merlin of the dragons that once inhabited Camelot, and that there is one lone dragon that still remains in the kindgom – locked away. Merlin finds the dragon, who tells him that Merlin and the Prince’s destinies are linked – that Merlin must make sure Prince Arthur is safe at all times, or else he will not become King and he and Merlin will not fullfill their destinies.
At the feast, Merlin and Gaius are present to assist with the festivities, and with a flourish, King Uther introduces “Lady Helen,” who begins to sing. Her singing – no doubt woven with magic – lulls everyone in the room, even Gaius, to sleep, cobwebs drifting over them in their slumber. Merlin, who has seen what “Lady Helen’s” singing has done to the members of the court, covers his ears and remains unaffected. As Lady Helen unsheathes a dagger from her sleeve, and prepares to take her vengeance on King Uther by killing Prince Arthur, Merlin causes the chandelier overhead to fall on “Lady Helen,” thereby halting her singing and breaking her enchantment. The court begin to awaken, but the imposter Lady Helen seizes her last chance and strikes. Merlin rushes forward, pushing Prince Arthur out of the way and saving his life. With all her energy spent, the imposter “Lady Helen” dies, returned to her old, shriveled self.
King Uther, in reward for Merlin saving Prince Arthur’s life, gives him the reward of becoming Prince Arthur’s personal man-servant. The episode ends with Gaius giving Merlin a book of spells – which he is reminded to keep hidden – and Merlin leaving Gaius once more, having been called by Prince Arthur.
All in all I thought this was a very solid start to the series and season. I found myself really enjoying Merlin and his exploits, trying to do what was right despite the consequences. King Uther, though essentially a minor villian for this episode, was painted in a way to make his reactions and fears real and understandable (up to a point.) I enjoyed the costumes, sets (I wouldn’t mind vacationing in that castle, for starters) and the way the episode was filmed. One thing I didn’t like was the speech every now and then. They no doubtedly upgraded the dialogue to be more friendly to the audiences of today, but at certain times it was more jarring than something I could easily brush off. It took me out of the time period, out of the fantasy world they were successfully building.
But on the whole, I loved this fantastical romp into the past. I enjoyed seeing two actors I’ve known from other series – Eve Myles as Lady Helen and Anthony Head as King Uther – playing very different roles in this tale. I must admit, however, that at certain times in this episode, if I squinted very hard, I could imagine Giles wearing that crown, instead of Uther… It will be interesting to see Uther’s character develop over the series, to determine if Anthony Head will be able to shed his Buffy the Vampire Slayer role for me.
Rating: 4 ½ Stars