I always thought Merlin
was a show that suited two-part stories, so it's odd how long it's taken them to take advantage of that. There were none in the first year, and last year's first attempt at a two-parter went for a storyline that would have barely been good enough to carry a single episode. Co-creator and writer Julian Jones & co seem to have finally cracked it though, giving us a two-episode story to open Series 3.
Actually it's impressive that "The Tears of Uther Pendragon" works at all, since the central piece of magic involves Morgana, with the help of a Mandrake root dipped in gravy, turning Uther mad. How could anyone even tell the difference is what I want to know, given that Uther's main character trait is paranoid gibbering about how witches are after him.
It does work though, on a number of levels. There's some creepy stuff to give the kids a jolt, like Uther's Ringu
experience at the well in Part 1, or the Clash of the Titans
skeletons in Part 2. I thought Sir Leon in particular did a very good job of fighting them, considering he died last series. Probably the clunkiest thing about the story was Morgana having completely crossed over to the dark side. Having done a decent job last year of suggesting how she might turn against Camelot, the writers have basically used the idea that she's been missing for a year as a shorthand to her just being an out-and-out baddie. As a result, it appears I will no longer be using the phrase Fierce!Morgana, as she has been permanently replaced by EvilSmirk!Morgana. Seriously, not since the days of Niall on Hollyoaks
has anyone been so compelled to EvilSmirk! the second anyone's back is turned.
I doubt that Merlin
will have been the one BBC show to have actually had more
money thrown at it, so I'm assuming that the rest of the series will feature storylines like "Merlin does the dishes" because all the budget seemed to be spunked on this opener. The fight scenes were well-done and there was some good CGI, from the invading hordes at the gates to the walking dead, and even the Dragon Ex Machina didn't look quite
as much like he's stuck together with used bits of chewing gum. Speaking of whom, the cliffhanger was a bit of a copout - not just the fact that Merlin got saved by the Dragon even before we got to the end of Part 1, but then having left us with the peril of a giant scorpion sting, it turned out he'd healed that for him as well, in passing like. And having it confirmed that Merlin can now summon the Dragon to save him whenever he likes does make you worry about how often that's going to get used now. I'm also wondering what was going on with Uther's hallucinations, and the connection between the drowned warlocks and Arthur's mother - seeing as how the way she died has already been a major plot point, is that going to be retconned for the sake of a new twist?
It's becoming an established fact that Tom Ellis in period costume is A Good Thing, but giving him that wig did rather put the theory to the test, so maybe it's not such a bad thing that he wasn't actually in these episodes that much. Meanwhile, I know a lot of people seem to have missed it, but there definitely was
a SOSSERY! from Richard Wilson (about 27½ minutes into Part 1) although he only mumbled it, rather than yelping it as is traditional.
GAYWATCH: Not doing too badly here. Arthur was frequently topless in Merlin's presence, including that one scene where he got him all wet. Then there was the "We've got you... and me... Near... Far... Wherever you are..." speech that I may be remembering slightly wrong, and all the gazing into each other's eyes for the "you're going to be a great King" pep talk - although Colin Morgan and Bradley James are so conscious of what they're doing here it looked like Morgan was about to corpse any minute. The rest of the time, their relationship is back to Arthur effectively pulling Merlin's pigtails and running away going "tee hee hee!" so the good news is we haven't had a massive reset button pressed on the raging homoeroticism like we did last year. Meanwhile despite apparently now knowing they're sisters, Morgana and Morgause continue to look longingly at each other, Emilia Fox practically licking her lips, if that's the sort of thing you're into. Perverts.