Well, colour me surprised once again. Far from letting the quality of its episode roster dip with a new instalment that clearly has ‘filler’ written all over it, the writers of Merlin have brought us another solid adventure in A Lesson In Vengeance. There are one or two gripes that hold it back from being a quintessential instalment, but all the same the positives far outweigh the negatives this week; something I’m glad to say given the opposite being true of some of the earlier episodes this season.
Leading on from the events of The Dark Tower, we head back to Camelot this week to discover the ramifications of Morgana’s magical influence over Queen Gwen. It turns out the monarch has now been turned fully against her husband, attempting to murder her betrothed at any possible moment. Merlin rightly notices the change of heart in her character from a mile off, which sets in motion his first plan to stop the death of his King. From there on out, we get a successful combination of humour and action setpieces, providing this episode a compelling edge that many really weren’t expecting of it!
Colin Morgan and the gang clearly had a ball filming this episode – that’s plain to see. Indeed, the more humorous take on some of Camelot’s finest warriors and allies actually manages to serve as a great help tonally, ensuring that this doesn’t feel like another stab at psychological horror after last week’s successful riff on the genre. The return of the elder Emrys is most certainly welcome, even if it is essentially just a quick plot device used to push things forwards this time around rather than a period for a substantial meeting between the aged Merlin and Arthur.
Morgan wasn’t the only star of the show on fine form this week, though. Although we’ve seen Gwen in plenty of sticky situations before, Angel Coulby did great work as the possessed character, while Kate McGrath impressed once again by ditching the predictable pantomime fanfare that made Morgana such a chore to watch in Season Four and Arthur’s Bane. Bradley James and Richard Wilson admittedly had little to do beyond look helpless and hapless at the events transpiring around them, yet that flaw was compensated for by the all-too-brief cameo from Game Of Thrones’ Jon Bradley as Samwell… sorry, Tyr, which appeared to almost emphasise Merlin’s subtle move towards some of the themes and direction of that particularly darker show. Bradley was great while he lasted- it’s just a shame that Gwen and Morgana made sure we wouldn’t be seeing him again this series.
In terms of direction, Alice Troughton continued to use her obvious skills to create a more immersive and film-like Merlin experience for the fans, with Arthur’s initial fight against his attackers and the Emrys scenes still particular standout moments in this respect for me. The further we get through the season, the more confident the show’s directors seem to become, so heaven knows what filmic greatness we can expect come the two-part finale to the programme in a few weeks’ time! The soundtrack of the episode reverted to standard Merlin fanfare, though, which was a little bit of a shame given how inventive last week’s episode felt on this front.
Time for the verdict, then. Overall, Merlin’s seventh episode of its final season is another strong watch, indicating that things will continue to improve as we move further into the run’s second half. While it was clear that due to Gwen’s continued possession this was something of a ‘filler’ episode in a three-part arc to come, that hardly hampered the story, only its conclusion. Jon Bradley’s appearance signalled a great change of tone to a more humorous instalment, which was more than welcome this time around. As I said last week, if Merlin keeps things as strong as A Lesson In Vengeance in weeks to come, then fans will at least be able to say without a doubt that they’ll miss the show when it’s gone from the BBC Listings Guide permanently come 2013.
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