A damsel in distress; her brave handsome knight who comes to save her; an evil witch: These are the classic conventions of this week’s episode of “Merlin”, “The Dark Tower”. The story is less complicated than some of the previous weeks’ adventures, mostly concentrated around a format of steal-seek-find-fight. While this makes it slightly easier to follow, it also drags a little. Arthur and his men make camp at dusk at least 3 times, and the narrative frequently cuts back to Gwen, terrified in the tower. As always, spoilers ahead.
The show starts off with Gwen, her brother Elyan, and the rest of the knights ambushed by Morgana’s magical snakes. Unfortunately the same care put into the Dragon this season was not applied to the CGI for the snakes, as they look very obviously computer generated. They only appear for a few seconds, so I guess they figured they could get away with this. While Sir Percival and Sir Leon are bitten and distracted, Morgana sweeps in and kidnaps Guinevere, taking her to the Dark Tower, a place that even the bravest knight fears. Of course this is another trap to lure Arthur to his doom.
When Arthur gets word of Guinevere’s absence, he immediately organizes a patrol to “ride at dawn”. If I had a dollar for every time I heard, “We ride at dawn,” on this show, I’d have quite a stash. While Arthur, Merlin, and his knights enter the “Impenetrable Forest” (you have to admit, it sounds like something from “The Princess Bride”), Guinevere faces personal terrors locked in a room and being dripped on by ugly mandrake roots that hang from the ceiling.
I mentioned at the end of my review last week that Morgana plays some twisted games. Well that is definitely true. At the same time that she’s holding Gwen prisoner, she tries to apply some Stockholm Syndrome techniques. She offers her food and comfort, and tells her they’re friends. Given the way she’s acted in the past, and the way she treated Gwen on the way to the Tower, Morgana appears especially frightening, even as we see shades of the old Morgana in her tone of voice (which is perhaps even more frightening).
Meanwhile, Arthur stares out across the vast land before him. His facial expression looks exactly like his father’s after Morgana betrayed him. We can see that without his queen, he would truly be lost; maybe even useless. Just at the point where I can see the audience getting a bit tired of watching the knights sleep in the forest, a fairy appears and calls Merlin over. She is Queen Mab– a character I was at first surprised to see, as she made her debut way back in Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet in Mercutio’s speech, but I later learned that she has appeared in other folklore since. She serves as the catalyst to move the story forward, providing Merlin with a warning about the Tower and the dangers it holds.
Predictably, they reach the Tower and are immediately set upon by Indiana Jones-style traps. This is a nice homage if that’s what the writers were trying to achieve, but I have seen Arthur and his men face far worse challenges than this. Sadly, we lose Elyan to an enchanted sword. Perhaps losing her brother is a turning point for Guinevere.
The end of the episode left me with a lot of hope for the intrigue that will follow. For this being a relatively linear episode, the last scene looked like a real jumping-off point. How did Gwen suddenly become convinced to side with Morgana and regard her as friend and ally? Did Morgana finally break her? Is she under a spell? Look forward to either getting some answers next week… or simply watching Camelot squirm for a while!