Sunday, 12 October 2008

TV Snark - Merlin: The Poisoned Chalice OR You Have Accepted The Quest 'Kill Ten Spiders'

The fourth episode of Merlin is a traditional fantasy and gaming trope - the fetch quest. The episode opens with Nimueh (Michelle Ryan) chanting in mock Gaelic as she creates the eponymous poisoned chalice. I wonder where she gets her ruby red lipstick from? Maybe there's an Avon rep who visits Nimueh in her secret cave lair?

We cut to the lord of Mercia arriving in Camelot to sign a peace treaty between the kingdoms. But look! It's Nimueh disguised as a Mercian servant! Cut to titles.

After the titles Merlin moans once again about being a servant, as if he didn't grow up within the feudal system and is instead some ignorant visitor from present day England. I think the servant/master expository dialogue must be in every episode to remind the audience what servants can and can't do. The problem is that it's not exactly a complex concept and it's the fourth episode, if you don't get it by now you never will.

Anyway, Nimueh conveniently 'bumps' into Merlin so she can flirt with him whilst wearing her bizarre servant outfit.

She introduces herself as Kara. Having successfully turned Merlin's head, Nimueh sets off to swap one of the Mercian chalices with her specially poisoned one.

Arthur and Merlin prepare for the feast which is just a set up for a silly costume joke as Merlin is forced to wear the traditional ceremonial robes of a servant of Camelot.

Oh the hilarity. Please note that none of the other servants are wearing this outfit. Arthur, you card.

During the feast Nimueh tells Merlin that the chalices are poisoned. Merlin does what he usually does and yells out an accusation in the middle of court. Uther makes Merlin drink from the chalice to prove that it's poisoned because Uther is a big jerk. Merlin soon keels over either because the chalice is poisoned or because he had the salmon mousse.

Merlin is taken back to Gaius Merldrew's crime lab where he tries to create an antidote. Gaius discovers the poison was made with a rare flower which, ironically, is the same flower he needs to create an antidote. The flower only grows in one spot, in the Forest of Balor which is also home to a cockatrice. Luckily you can play through that zone solo if you're a Prince of the Realm, so Arthur volunteers to go and fetch the flower. Merlin only has four days to live so it's a timed quest.

Uther doesn't want Arthur to go because he's his only son and one day all of this will be his. Uther grounds Arthur to prevent him from going and also because he's kind of a tool. Morgana makes her token appearance of the episode and encourages Arthur to run off and complete the quest anyway. Arthur does just that and rides off into the night through two half-hearted gate guards. Unfortunately for Arthur, Nimueh knows he is coming as she is watching the episode in her magic bird bath.

Meanwhile, Merlin is getting worse as the poison is more potent than it should be. He now only has two days to live. Gaius concludes this must be the work of Nimueh/Kara.

Arthur ventures into the forest where he finds Nimueh sat on a log crying and acting as a damsel in distress. Arthur then has a fight with a bit of CGI pretending to be a cockatrice.

Arthur kills it in a CGI friendly way as he throws his sword off screen and impales the beast through the chest.

Nimueh leads Arthur to the caves as she pretends to be an innocent servant girl. The caves seem to be man made and look very much like the same caves that hosted the water supply last episode...

Nimueh leads Arthur to a small ledge deep underground and points out the Morteus flower on a nearby rockface. She then casts a spell to collapse the rock that Arthur was standing on causing him to be left dangling off the rockface. Nimueh then claims that her face is the last that Arthur will ever see as a giant spider appears. At this point she utters "It seems we have a visitor" as the spider approaches. This is pretty poor villainous dialogue and it's not very intimidating or witty. She could've got away with "Look who's coming to dinner!" Or even better, "Oh look, it's a new friend for you to HANG OUT with. Mwahaha!" On second thoughts, this is probably why I don't get paid to write.

Things get confusing as Arthur easily kills the spider with one good swipe of his sword. Nimueh then says that it's not Arthur's destiny to die by her hand. So why was she trying to kill him then?

Nimueh leaves and Merlin, in his fevered state, summons a glowing orb to light the cave for Arthur so he can grab the flower and escape from the horde of spiders. Well at least Merlin is displaying some other magical talents other than telekinesis.

Arthur escapes the cave and rides back to Camelot. Unfortunately Uther is still pissed at Arthur so he has him arrested and thrown in the dungeon. Arthur tries to reason with Uther but Uther continues to be the most temperamental and erratic king ever as he crushes the flower and tells Arthur that he'll be released in a week and then he can get a new servant. Oooh, that's cold.

Gwen decides to bluff her way into the dungeons to see Arthur. She manages to get in and out with a tray of food as Arthur places the remains of the flower in some bread. Then there's the shortest chase ever as a guard rumbles Gwen's scheme but she escapes by running off camera and changing scene to Gaius's lab. Bonekickers did this and now Merlin carries on the new BBC tradition of not having chase sequences in any programmes.

Gaius decides that he needs to add some magic to the antidote so he sends Gwen away for some water whilst he casts a spell. The antidote is finished and then fed to Merlin. There's a brief tease as Merlin 'dies' but then he miraculously recovers. Hurrah! Gaius informs Uther that Nimueh poisoned Merlin and convinces Uther that the lord of Mercia is innocent. This prevents a war and saves the BBC quite a huge chunk of its budget. Gaius wonders to Uther if Arthur should be told the truth about Nimueh. Oooh, a meta plot mystery.

Uther doesn't tell Arthur about Nimueh but he does tell him that he did the right thing and that he's proud of him. I like Anthony Head but this version of Uther doesn't suit him, Uther is too erratic and grumpy. I think the role would suit someone with a bit more intensity and authority.

Next week, Isaac Mendes from Heroes as Sir Lancelot. Umm, what?

Well, Merlin continues to amble along quite inoffensively. It's never going to be a great or challenging show as it's essentially light entertainment. At the moment I think the scripts could do with more polish and a bit more imagination. Everything is too straight forward and the show is going to become very formulaic if there isn't a twist thrown in every now and again. Heck, even Robin Hood managed to come up with some weird twists to its plots and that show was utter cack.


Doc Hall said...

Will the love oblong become a love pentagon with the inclusion of Lance Mendez?

Probably not, since he seems like another gimmick guest star, like Sir Two Pints last week.

I thought that the death fake out was a great oppertunity to sneak in an "I don't believe it!" from Giaus.

Slender Sail said...

Late reply, but we get series late over here and I've been studying other matters in the meantime. Wanted to say I thought it was a silly show at first, meant for teenagers but then it totally grew on me. I've met one of their sources in Wales and I have to say, there is real magic here (spiritual agenda). Am in love with it. And come on, Uther crushes the delicate flower that Arthur brings Merlin... ahaha. What's not to love?