It's the second episode of Merlin and this week we're treated to a tournament. This episode guest stars that bloke from Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps, Will Mellor.
The episode starts with Will visiting a market that looks strangely like one stall set up in a corner of the castle set they always use for Camelot, but lit differently. The stall is run by a gruff voiced Cockney (as per standard cliche regulations) who has prepared a magic shield for Will. The shield has a snake motif and with a few magic words the snakes come to life. After the demonstration, Will takes the shield and kills the shopkeeper with the snakes becasuse:
1. This shows Will is evil.
2. This also follows cliche #1,572 which states that shopkeepers selling secret weapons to bad guys must always be killed by said bad guy.
Will then rides off to Camelot to join the tournament and we find out his name is Valiant. Hmmm, well it's better than Sir Bastard or Sir Will-Kill-You-With-Magic-Snakes but it seems a little lacking in inspiration seeing as there's already a pretty famous character with that name. Unless it's intended as an ironic character name. We then go into the titles, the rubbish looking monster is still there, look:
It's a little hard to make out from the image but the jaws move unconvincingly like a bad puppet. I bet that monster will appear in the cheap episode when there's no budget left.
Arthur is busy preparing for the tournament by beating the crap out of Merlin. Whilst I'm sure it's fun, I don't think that preparing to fight other trained killers by beating on a jug-eared servant is a great idea. He might want to spar with someone who knows what he's doing.
Merlin retreats back to his quarters and spouts exposition about the current status quo and then shows off his telekinetic 'magic' by opening a book. The problem is that he seems to have regressed because now he has to say magic words to use his power and he has no eye glowing thing going on. Um, what? Don't worry, there's no explanation.
Arthur learns about armour from Guinevere (she's a blacksmith's daughter now) and then he annoys Arthur when he helps him put his armour on before the tournament. Why doesn't Arthur have a squire? You know, someone traditionally trained to help him with armour and weapons and to help him spar and practice. Something that a mere servant is vastly under qualified to do. Oh well, it's not like you need to do any research when you're rewriting popular legend as Hollyoaks 600AD.
There's a tournament montage which shows knights scrapping on foot with swords. This is a one on one challenge tournament so there's no jousting. Booooo!
After the tournament, Merlin uses his magic in a Fantasia style to perform his chores for Arthur. Gaius bursts into the room in an attempt to either catch Merlin practicing magic or doing something else he shouldn't do on his own in his room.
Merlin later discovers the magic shield in the armoury because it makes a hissing noise. Valiant catches Merlin examining his shield so Merlin makes some clumsy excuses and leaves.
The tournament continues and Valiant finally uses his magic shield to beat a knight with an anachronistic haircut.
Valiant doesn't kill his opponent for some reason so the knight is taken away by Gaius Meldrew to be treated. Gaius spots the snake bite and needs an antidote to treat the wound so Merlin heads off to snoop on Valiant who is currently feeding a mouse to his shield. Yes, that's right:
So that's pretty weird. A magic shield that you have to feed. Hmmm.
I must also point out that there's a chess piece sat in the middle of a corridor for no reason. Also note that there's a bricked up fireplace there too. That's some odd set design.
Merlin wants to go to the cops (sorry, the king) with his story but Gaius reminds him and the audience that servants have no voice in court and he can't accuse Valiant without evidence or else the DA will have his badge, or something.
The tournament is finally narrowed down to Valiant versus Arthur in the final. Merlin decides to get some venom from the shield so that Gaius can make an antidote. He sneaks into Valiant's room during a feast and manages to chop the head off one of the snakes. Gaius makes the antidote so the injured knight can recover.
Armed with the evidence and the testimony of Sir Doomed, he tells Arthur everything in the hopes that Arthur will have Valiant disqualified for using magic. Arthur trusts Merlin and presents the case to Uther in court. Of course, it all goes wrong as Valiant's spy snake has seen and heard everything. Yes, his shield can spy on people now.
Valiant sends a snake to assassinate Sir Doomed just as he has recovered from the last snake bite. Merlin's entire case relied on Sir Doomed so Arthur is humiliated in court as he cannot prove that Valiant is using a magic shield and spy snakes. Valiant suggests that Arthur is scared to fight him and made the whole thing up. Ooooh, it's on now.
Arthur fires Merlin as his servant (good, he should go and hire a squire instead) and Merlin goes emo and sulks. Merlin visits the CGI dragon under the castle and moans at him until the dragon gives him some cryptic advice to shut him up. Guinevere later gives Merlin a pep talk and so he decides to steal a statue of a dog.
The tournament final goes ahead and Arthur knows he is walking into a death trap but he won't back out because he will lose the respect and honour of the kingdom. Look, honour in the face of death, Arthur's really noble and responsible! Morgana visits Arthur to propogate the love oblong, I still can't place her accent, is it supposed to be Irish? Anyway Arthur gets solemn 'oooooo' 'eee' 'aaaahhhh' music as he enters the final fight.
Merlin speaks magic at the statue all night but nothing happens until conveniently just before the tournament. The dog statue transforms into a real dog that tries to savage Merlin. Merlin locks it in his room and runs off to help Arthur.
Arthur seems to be getting beaten fair and square by Valiant, until Merlin interferes and uses his newly discovered spell to force the snakes to appear out of Valiant's shield. The court is shocked and Morgana replaces Arthur's lost sword with Uther's. This allows Arthur to kill the snakes and land a killing blow on Valiant.
Is it me or did Valiant get screwed in the final? He wasn't cheating in the final fight and seemed ready to defeat Arthur without his magic shield. Merlin is a cheat.
So all is well again, Arthur rehires Merlin as his servant and Morgana and Arthur resume their love/hate relationship as Arthur refuses to admit that Morgana helped him win the fight. Arthur refuses to buy Merlin a drink and then gives him a long list of chores to do. Ho, ho, ho.
Well, Merlin continues to inoffensively amble along. There's nothing horribly wrong with the show but there's nothing amazing about it either. It seems to be missing a spark to get it going or to capture the imagination. At this stage the show seems to be a neutral land of inoffensive if unspectacular television, all it takes is one dire or superb episode to send it into the realm of the sublime or the TV hell already occupied by Torchwood, Robin Hood and Bonekickers. I'm hoping it will improve because the BBC really needs to create a popular series that doesn't insult the intelligence of the average 5 year old.