Friday, July 9, 2010

Summer TV Rewind: Merlin 1.01: "The Dragon's Call"

It’s pretty obvious from looking at the list of posts to your left that I haven’t had quite as much time for blogging lately. Two good things can come of that, though. One: it means I’m (partially) employed at the moment, and two: I’m bringing back Sarah for more guest blogging! This summer, Sarah will be rewatching and recapping series one of the BBC show “Merlin,” which can be seen on the NBC family of networks in the United States. I tried “Merlin” myself about two years ago and didn’t get past the pilot, but Sarah may have inspired me to give the series another shot (once I’m worn out on “Doctor Who,” that is!).


“How small you are for such a great destiny.”

- The Great Dragon

Upon re-watch, I realize that the writers packed a hell of a lot into this first episode. Overall, “The Dragon’s Call” was a very good introduction into the world of Merlin and this version of the Arthurian legend. I think the thing I really like about this show is that it brings Merlin and Arthur down as equals. Both young men struggling to find their place.

When we first meet Merlin, he’s on the road to Camelot, sent by his mother. He arrives and revels for a few minutes at the sheer size and beauty of Camelot. I have to say, the castle they’ve filmed in (in France) is extremely impressive. They really lucked out. Merlin’s wonder at Camelot is cut short when he stumbles on a crowd of people around an executioner’s block. A man, Thomas, is brought and King Uther Pendragon (Anthony Head, of Buffy and Doctor Who fame) decrees that because he was accused of conspiring to practice magic, he is sentenced to death. Uther rid the kingdom of magic twenty years earlier and he won’t let it seep into his kingdom at any cost. As if it wasn’t gross enough to have the guy’s head chopped off, Uther announces that there will be a celebration of the twenty years Camelot has been magic-free. I have to say, Uther is far crankier than Giles. But all is not well in Camelot. Thomas’s mother, a wrinkly and kind of gross looking woman, promises that Uther will soon share her pain. She disappears in a gust of wind before the guards can do more than lunge at her.

Merlin shortly meets Gaius, the Court Physician and his soon-to-be mentor. It wouldn’t be a story about Merlin if there wasn’t magic afoot right under Uther’s nose. Merlin interrupts Gaius as he’s browsing a bookshelf and ends up saving Gaius as he falls off the balcony level. After some brief panicking in which Merlin denies ever having studied or been taught magic, Gaius promises to keep his secret and sends him off on some errands.

We briefly jump from Merlin’s point of view to Morgana, the King’s ward. Yes she would be the same (or future) Morgan la Fey. I have to say, I really like the way the writers are laying the groundwork for the people these characters are going to become. She informs Uther of her disgust at having a celebration after chopping a man’s head off and that magic wasn’t hurting anyone. Uther doesn’t really care what she thinks. She’s his ward and she must respect him and join him at the feast to honor the kingdom’s finest singer, Lady Helen.

Enter one royal prat, Prince Arthur. Merlin happens upon him while he and some of his men are using a young man as target practice. Merlin stands up to Arthur which only lands him in jail for the night. Gaius comes to his rescue the next morning. Merlin’s sprung from jail but not from public humiliation. He finds himself in the stocks in what is a very entertaining scene. He almost seems to be enjoying it. As needs to be done in the pilot of any show, we meet the main players and this is where we meet Gwenevere (Angel Coulby, briefly of Doctor Who). This Gwen contrary to the usual mythology is not a princess or Lady. She’s Morgana’s maid. Additionally, I found it quite interesting in a casting sense to cast her because of her ethnicity. You don’t often see many people of color in Arthurian legend portrayals. Gwen commends Merlin for standing up to Arthur and that she thought he was really brave. It’s a sweet moment where it appears there is some groundwork being laid for a future Merlin/Gwen relationship.

Evening falls and we see Lady Helen (Eve Myles, Torchwood and Doctor Who) in her camp a short distance from Camelot. In quite short order Thomas’s mother invades the camp and kills Lady Helen. She assumes Lady Helen’s form and arrives at Camelot the next day, fooling everybody. That same morning, Gaius sends Merlin to deliver a sleeping draught for Morgana. I especially like this scene because we get to see a bit more of Morgana’s character all the while getting some comedy as Merlin pretends to be Gwen while Morgana dresses. He listens to her rant about how if Arthur wanted her to accompany him to the feast, he should have asked her and since he didn’t she will be going alone. Lucky for Merlin, Gwen arrives right in the nick of time.

Too bad Merlin can’t keep his mouth shut around Arthur. They end up in something of a street brawl and Merlin resorts to magic to try and beat Arthur. He almost succeeds, too. Until he catches Gaius watching, diverting his attention long enough for Arthur to catch him off guard. I have to say I think this scene was quite well choreographed. Most of the actors do their stunts so it’s even more impressive.

Gaius reprimands Merlin for using his magic for such childish reasons and Merlin responds by asking what good his magic is if he can’t use it. In fact, if he can’t use his magic, he’d rather be dead. He wants someone to tell him what his destiny is, why he was born with the gifts. And he ends up getting it when he sneaks down to the bowels of the castle and meets the Great Dragon. The last of its kind, Uther imprisoned it as an example. The Dragon tells Merlin that he is special and that he has a great destiny ahead him, and so does Arthur. Merlin doesn’t believe that his destiny can be linked in any way to Arthur because the Prince is such an idiot. But the Dragon is insistent that it is Merlin’s destiny to protect Arthur so he can become King and unite the land of Albion.

Merlin gets the chance to prove that maybe his and Arthur’s destinies are intertwined when the faux Lady Helen begins to sing at the feast. Her song is actually a spell that puts everyone to sleep, and for some reason makes cobwebs cover everything. Merlin, having seen items of witchcraft in her room earlier, covers his ears and remains immune to the song. He manages to make the chandelier come crashing down on her just before she can throw a dagger. With the singing stopped, everyone wakes up and Uther sees the hag for what she is. She has just enough life in her to fling the dagger at Arthur’s heart. Merlin to the rescue, again. He slows the dagger’s progress and pushes Arthur out of the way just in time to avoid the blade as it imbeds in the chair in which Arthur had been sitting. Uther insists on rewarding Merlin for his actions by making him Arthur’s man servant. Neither Merlin nor Arthur are overly pleased at the arrangement, but at least their destinies seem to be on track.

No comments:

Post a Comment