If ever we needed proof that the final battle of Camlann is well and truly on its way to the small screen in the remaining fortnight of Merlin’s final season of broadcasting, then The Drawing Of The Dark was most certainly it. For weeks now, we’ve had teasers and hints aplenty at the terrible war that will ensue across the kingdom in the two-part finale The Diamond Of The Day, and indeed the corruptible Mordred’s role within it. It’s now, though, that we see the rumours and rumblings reach their incredible satisfying crescendo.
The Drawing Of The Dark mirrors the previous Season Five highlight The Disir not only in its increased focus on the Mordred arc, but additionally in its posing of an intense moral dilemma for the regular cast to deal with. Admittedly, Angel Coulby’s Gwen was relegated to dinner duties once again with the Puppet Queen trilogy thankfully long behind us, but just about every other mainstay in the ensemble was affected by this episode’s events. We’ve seen ambiguous Druids introduced in the show many a time before, yet it was Mordred’s connection to Kara that made the journey towards discovering her fate all the more compelling.
Particular credit must go to Alexander Vhalos, then, for his masterful turn as Mordred, back in the limelight where the character belongs. It’s been torture to see the latest Knight of the Round Table forced to linger in the background for weeks on end, only stepping to the forefront when Merlin wanted to voice his suspicions about the role he will no doubt play yet again. Vhalos entered a tiresome, repetitive routine of predictable innocent portrayals of Arthur’s famed foe, whereby all of the fascinating moral ambiguity that kept Arthur’s Bane Part 2 afloat was lost almost entirely. This time, though, the actor channelled both his greatest performing strengths and a hint of The Omen with a captivating new take on the soon-to-be adversary.
Alexandra Dowling played no small part in engaging such a triumphant performance from this series regular. As Kara, Dowling gave us an empathetic and believable Druid character whose transformation into a woman who would not believe Arthur could ever change his father’s ways was realistic, especially given the evidence she would have from the consequences of Uther’s actions in the past three seasons. Kara and Mordred shared a likeable relationship that of course was burdened with guilt at the inevitable, when the monarch was forced to make the toughest decision of his life. Indeed, Bradley James was no slacker in this regard either, fully bringing across the moral ambiguity of the situation and the sense that was really no ‘right’ way to deal with the proceedings at hand.
And what of our series lead? Colin Morgan rightfully portrayed Merlin here as a consistently suspicious and tense young man, whose own choices here are sure to prove of vital importance in terms of the events that are still to come. Whereas in Arthur’s Bane Part 2, the sorcerer’s goading of Arthur to kill Mordred at any cost seemed vastly out of character, now the effects of his vision in the season opener are plain to see, and thus his attempts to incapacitate the potential new foe in their midst and keep Mordred within the walls of Camelot seem a lot more feasible. Morgan’s chemistry with Vhalos here was palpable too given their magical connection, and thus it’ll be intriguing to see if the pair of actors are offered more much-needed screen time in the final two adventures, because judging by these sequences together they would own the screen at the time.
There are countless sections of the narrative which beg interest and exploration, but if anything it’s the final five minutes or so that deserve the concluding words of this review. Far too long now (both for us and the character), we’ve had Morgana on the hunt for the key to destroying Camelot- Emrys’ location and true identity- so it was deeply gratifying to finally see the events we knew were coming begin to play out. The writing team would have got the script immensely wrong if there wasn’t tension in fans’ rooms as Mordred was brought before the High Priestess, and thus that tension was wholly palpable, especially once the secrets started to come out.
Now that Morgana knows the truth about our hero, the question is of course naturally this- how long until King Arthur learns what Merlin has been concealing from him all of this time? Indeed, with so many living members of the outlying lands knowing the true identity of Emrys, it feels as if such a discovery on the show’s other protagonist’s part is inevitable in the final two instalments of the season. In The Drawing Of The Dark, then, the seeds of Arthur’s fate have most definitely been sewn, something James’ version of the Monmouth character recognises without doubt, and it’s here that we get the best episode of the season so far. Bring on the finale, because judging by what we’ve seen here, the (brief) future of Merlin’s reign on BBC1 looks very bright…
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