There’s a certain strange tinge of melancholy starting to surround the final episodes of Merlin’s fifth run, what with our new foreknowledge of the show’s impending demise. It’s a good job, then, that with the eighth instalment of Season Five- The Hollow Queen- the writers prove once again they’re not letting the downbeat future prospects get them down, with another strong offering at the centre of the three-part arc of Gwen’s possession by Morgana. Sure, there are faults here and there this time around, but this week’s romp is still leaps and bounds ahead of the earlier mediocre adventures of this series.
Once again, Arthur finds himself at the hands of a cunning plot by the ever-reliable witch who’s plagued him for three entire seasons now, this time manifesting itself in Gwen’s attempts to have the Sarrum murder her betrothed. This could have very easily turned into just another dull comedy episode for assassination gags if the writers weren’t careful, yet by introducing the ploy crux of Deagal onto the scene, taking Merlin back out into the ever-so-familiar forests surrounding his kingdom, the team keep this a fresh watch rather than a predictable one. It’s obvious right from the start that betrayal and redemption will play a large part in the major sub-plot of the adventure, yet that fails to hamper the overall quality of the story in much of a significant way.
Morgana even falls privy to a few interesting new revelations, with the Sarrum letting on to Arthur that he once captured the High Priestess and her pet dragon Aithusa in the gap between the last and current seasons. It certainly explains the state that we saw John Hurt’s only dragon brethren in during the second episode, yet the location of that magical creature remains to be seen, so despite fuelling the motivations of Kate McGrath’s character well, the writers still have work to do in order to make everything fit together by the time we reach the show’s finale. No one’s asking for revelations quite on the level of Game Of Thrones or its derivatives, but it would certainly be nice to see this prolonged narrative arc take shape into something important in the concluding two-parter so as to provide the service fans so richly deserve in the run-up to the fantasy drama’s end.
Colin Morgan was on fine form once more here. Despite spending a good ten minutes near-dead due to Morgana’s twisted plans, Morgan gave a more empathetic and realistic turn as Merlin after some of his more cavalier attitudes shown in the earlier episodes that didn’t quite reflect what we had seen in past seasons. Although Bradley James’ Arthur didn’t have much to do other than stand around and look bemused for the second week running, this was compensated for by Angel Coulby’s beautifully sly rendition of Gwen, Richard Wilson’s increasingly more suspicious Gaius and the strong portrayal of Deagal by newcomer Alfie Stewart. Truly, though this show is racing towards its conclusion in the five weeks of broadcasting it has to go, we can at least rest assured that Merlin still packs a consistently impressive British cast who’ll be fondly remembered long after the finale airs.
The only problem with the episode, then? I’d like to be able to start discussing more significant plot twists towards the overall series arc soon, and as there were none of those present this week, to some extent it feels as if I’m almost reviewing a very spiritual successor to Episode 7 that really doesn’t develop things much further. The performances, direction and standalone narrative were all great, but they don’t make a colossal stamp on Merlin in quite the same way as Season Five’s highlight episode The Disir did a couple of weeks back. Here’s hoping that with the Gwen possession finale, the hunt for Emrys, Mordred’s turn and the two-part series conclusion on the way things can only get better, as The Hollow Queen at the very least bodes well for the highs that the show will hopefully go out on come this Christmas season.
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