‘Merlin’: ‘The Sword in the Stone (Part Two)’ review

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The conclusion of Series 4’s finale began with the summoning of Kilgharrah, but when dragon fire was not enough to halt Agravaine’s relentless pursuit; Merlin took matters into his own hands with chilling consequences.

Escaping into the forest, and fighting against Arthur’s instinct to run, it fell to the young wizard to re-inspire his King ready for the battle to regain Camelot from Morgana and her Southron forces.

Agravaine’s death was no surprise, but its rapidity and manner were truly shocking. Colin Morgan played it beautifully and you can see the turmoil run though his eyes as Agravaine suggests they are alike, and Merlin realises that he has no other option.

The end was at least swift for the treasonous uncle. More importantly, it made for some thrillingly troubling character development as Merlin became a mass murderer in a single moment. How much further he will go in future to protect the dreams of Albion?

In many ways, this episode was as much about Merlin’s ‘becoming’ as it was Arthur’s. He cleverly stage-managed the sword pull, skilfully playing both Arthur and his people in order to get the desired result. His sabotage of Morgana’s magic though was risky plan at best.

Notwithstanding the dangers of sneaking into Camelot, it was terribly lucky that she did not use her magic overnight, to warm her room with a fire perhaps, and find that something was wrong. We wondered that, as Emrys, he did not free the imprisoned Knights at this point too, as it would have bolstered Arthur’s forces and shown him that a magic user was on his side.

Guinevere too got the right result as through her loyalty, unswerving in the face of both dangers and Tristan’s criticism, Arthur saw past her indiscretion to his true feelings. It would seem that for the moment Morgana’s hand in the Lancelot situation will remain hidden and, like her husband, Gwen is to remain ignorant of the magical world around her.

As villains go, Helios sadly failed to live up to any of his early promise. Despite being handy with a sword and besting Arthur, he was little more than an expository stooge for Morgana and we were disappointed not to see a moment between him and Gwen.

Whether by accident or design, the baby dragon Aithusa’s saving of Morgana opens up her return and brings with it many questions. Her fear of Emrys was palpable and we imagine she will seek to eradicate him before she comes back for Camelot again.

There were a two moments where it seemed that we might get a wider reveal of Merlin’s powers. Firstly, when Arthur went back for Merlin, where it seemed he might come across the bodies of Agraviane and his men. Secondly, when Isolde was dying and we were willing for Merlin to step forward and attempt to heal her with magic.

Guest stars Tristan and Isolde continued to entertain and fulfilled their functions well, by challenging Arthur and driving him forward as well as giving hope. It would seem that Miranda Raison’s moment is done, but we hope that we have not seen the last of Tristan (Ben Daniels). Arthur would benefit from his wisdom and alternative outlook on the world, as a counterpoint to the Knights and matters of court.

Praise must be once again given to Alice Troughton’s direction; the sword pull scene was stunning and suitably iconic, as was the kiss and triumphant coronation. Despite a feast of action, the tension built well and the episode was thoroughly involving, backed by an emotional score.

Next year we can look forward to King Arthur, Queen Guinevere and goodness only knows what for Merlin. Standing up for himself more, he is becoming the master manipulator of legend. We enjoyed some more honest interchanges between Merlin and Arthur here, if undercut by sarcasm, so surely he can’t remain a servant after all this?

After a strong series of Merlin, this was a high note.

Aired at 8pm on Saturday 24th December 2011 on BBC One.

> Order the Complete Series 4 boxset on Amazon.

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