Sunday, July 18, 2010

Summer TV Rewind: Merlin 1.03: "The Mark of Nimueh"

Sarah has joined us again to recap another episode of Season 1 of Merlin for your reading pleaure...


“Magic isn’t good or bad. It’s how you use it.”
- Gaius

I have to say, the writers of Merlin are taking their sweet time developing the relationships between all of the characters to ultimately lead them to where we know they’re headed. But in terms of season arc, they introduce Merlin’s nemesis quite early on. The episode begins in a cave far from Camelot with a beautiful young woman molding something from clay. It looks kind of like a cute wingless baby dragon. Of course, given that fact that there’s some ominous music playing in the background, there’s nothing cute about it. She places the clay baby-dragon-thing in a spherical box, incants some words over it and sends it through the water system to Camelot. Right before opening credits, we see the creature start to hatch.

No sooner has the thing begun to hatch than we find Merlin and Gaius bent over a dead man. Gaius initially states that he’s not afraid of catching whatever it is because he’s the Court Physician and it’s his job. But he rolls the fellow over and his skin is blue and his eyes have lost their color. Merlin grabs a blanket to cover up the body so people don’t start to panic, and they wheel the corpse off to Gaius’s chambers for an autopsy. On the way, they run into Gwen, and we have some more fun Gwen/Merlin attraction. She gives him a flower and he sheepishly puts it in the collar of his bandana. I kind of wish they would have gone farther with this pairing than they did. It would have been a really fun twist.

Merlin and Gaius get the dead body back and start examining it. Gaius is at a loss for what could have caused the man’s death. He fears it was done by magic but can’t think of any sorcerer around powerful enough to have caused it. In short order, Arthur shows up requesting Gaius’s immediate presence. They arrive in the throne room to find another man dead of the same illness. Gaius is hesitant to tell Uther his theory because as we all know by now, Uther gets extra surly and cranky whenever the “M word” is tossed around. Uther instructs Arthur to conduct door-to-door searches to find the perpetrator before the illness spreads to the entire town. We get a montage (the writers seem to like those) of Arthur and his men searching the town and coming up empty handed. They have to check Gaius’s chambers too, and it ends up being kind of funny. They check Merlin’s room, and as Arthur walks in, the camera pans over the magic book Gaius gave Merlin at the end of episode 1. The camera moves back to Gaius and Merlin, and Arthur’s voice is heard off camera saying, “Merlin, come here.” Obviously, they want you to think that Arthur’s found the book. Ultimately, Arthur comments about Merlin’s poor hygiene skills and the improper use of a cupboard. Improper in that Merlin doesn’t use it. Merlin manages to hide the book before Arthur can find it.

Uther is not pleased with Arthur’s lack of evidence found. So he tells Arthur to impose a curfew and cordon off the lower town to try and keep the disease from spreading. Arthur isn’t thrilled with the idea but does it anyway. Meanwhile, Merlin and Gaius are examining a new victim. This time it’s a woman of higher social status and they figure out that the disease is being spread through the water supply.

Unfortunately, Gwen’s father has fallen ill with the disease (probably from the water cress soup she made the day before). It’s enough to push Merlin to try a magical remedy. He can’t stand to see Gwen so upset, so that night he sneaks past the guards who are supposed to be imposing curfew, into Gwen’s house, and places a poultice beneath her father’s pillow.

The next morning, the number of sheet covered bodies has increased, and Uther is even more pissed than before. He and Arthur have a bit of a whose got the kingdom’s best interests at heart showdown, which it looks like Uther wins. I have to say, I think they may go overboard a tiny bit with trying to juxtapose Uther and Arthur’s viewpoints on how to run the kingdom. We know Arthur is supposed to be a more benevolent King. You don’t have to hit us over the head with it. So, Arthur’s back out on the town looking for the sorcerer when he happens upon Gwen’s father back to work at the blacksmith forge. Arthur is initially sort of impressed by the full recovery and then suspicious when he finds out Gwen was the only person there when he got better. And so, he and a bunch of knights search her house, find the poultice and haul Gwen off from Morgana’s chambers.

Gwen begs Uther to listen to her and says she isn’t a witch. Morgana comes to her defense and tries to make Uther see reason. But Uther is stubborn and pig-headed. He pronounces judgment and condemns Gwen to death by burning. Even after Gwen is dragged off to the dungeon, Morgana is still fighting for her. It really shows the dynamic between Uther and Morgana. She dares Uther to explain why Gwen would work as hard as she does day after day if she could magic everything she wanted. Uther claims he has a duty to protect the kingdom. Arthur, too, tries to change his father’s mind but Uther simply says that Arthur hasn’t seen the kind of evil and destruction sorcery can cause.

Merlin, feeling guilty and rightly so, goes to see Gwen in the dungeons and he promises he’s going to save her. Gwen tries to put on a brave face but fails. They could have been such a great couple. And so, Merlin goes off to confess to Uther that he was the one who cured Gwen’s father. Gaius is aghast at Merlin’s admission and Uther orders the guards to arrest him. But, Arthur jumps in and manages to save Merlin’s but by claiming Merlin is suffering a grave affliction of the heart; he’s in love with Gwen. It gets a laugh out of Uther and Merlin is let go.

We see a quick viewpoint of our sorceress observing Merlin and Gaius head down to check the source of the town’s water supply. Merlin collects a sample of the water so Gaius can test it when the creature that’s causing the illness jumps out at them. They identify the creature as an Avank (Afanc) and Merlin, after a quick stop in the dungeons to tell Gwen he’s going to save her (again), goes down for his episodic visit to the Great Dragon. All he gets for his efforts is told to use the elements he has at his command and that he can’t defeat the creature alone. He is one side of the coin, Arthur the other.

Time is running out for Gwen because Uther’s moved the execution up to the night. Morgana goes to Gaius and she and Merlin form a plan. But they’ll need Arthur. We get some more sexual-tension banter from her and Arthur in which she convinces him to help save Gwen and fight the Avank. The cave where the Avank is hiding is full of little darkened corridors that freak them out and make them jumpy. But, they don’t have much trouble finding the Avank as it wants to eat them…or something. Arthur tries to fight it alone, but in the end, it’s Merlin’s magic that helps him defeat the beast.

Gaius brings a piece of the sphere to Uther and informs him it bears the mark of Nimueh, a sorceress that we can only gather Uther has had dealings with before. With the beast destroyed, everyone who was sick (and not yet dead) has recovered and the water supply is safe. Gwen is released from the dungeons and all is happy. There’s an interesting little scene with Merlin and Morgana after Gwen is released in which we are led to believe Morgana saw Merlin using magic in the cave. But, it was a red herring. She says his secret crush on Gwen is safe with her. Even though it all turned out well in the end, the fact that Merlin used magic to defeat the Avank did not escape Nimueh and she’s going to make him pay.

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