Wednesday, 19 November 2008

TV Snark - Merlin: Excalibur OR +12 Hackmaster

Let's do this!

The episode kicks off in a musty old tomb where the Bionic Woman, Michelle Ryan, or Nimueh as she calls herself, wanders over to a sarcophagus and incants some mock-Gaelic magic words. A gauntlet clad hand reaches out of the crumbling sarcophagus lid but sadly doesn't say, "!"

Meanwhile, Arthur is crowned as Crown Prince. Gwen teases Merlin about being proud of Arthur but Merlin is more proud of washing socks. Then the BBC effects team, The Mill, reuse the special effect from Doctor Who episode, The Girl In The Fireplace, as a black knight rides a horse through a stained glass window into the court. Still, it's a dramatic entrance even if it's been done before. The Black Knight throws down his gauntlet which is then taken up by Mook-Of-The-Week, Sir Owain. We have never seen this knight before so I guess his life expectancy is pretty short, especially when the Black Knight's terms are single combat to the death. Owain is appropriately wearing a red cloak which is pretty close to a red shirt.

After the opening titles Merlin asks Gaius Meldrew if he's ever seen the Black Knight before. Gaius pretends not to know anything about him which fools Merlin but doesn't fool the audience. Gaius ALWAYS knows everything about the guest monster of the week.

Morgana makes her token appearance of the episode to complain at Arthur about the duel. Arthur exposits to Morgana and the audience that the Knight's Code forbids him from interfering and Owain must fight alone tomorrow. No one has any faith in Sir Owain, so he must be bad. I mean, the characters don't even know if the Black Knight is any good, all he's done so far is ride a horse through a window. Admittedly, that's pretty bad ass but it's not a clear indicator of fighting prowess is it?

Gaius meets up with Geoff the Librarian and they recognise the Black Knight's heraldry as belonging to Du Bois. A knight killed by Uther years ago.

Arthur meets up with Owain to give him a pep talk before his death, sorry, fight. Gwen gives Owain a token of luck from Morgana and Owain seals his fate by saying, "I won't need luck!" The poor, disposable fool.

Owain fights the Black Knight and gets in a fatal blow to the chest. The Black Knight shrugs it off and kills in Owain in retaliation. The Black Knight always triumphs! Oh well, bye bye Mook-of-the-Week!

Everyone is very upset that the knight we'd never seen before is dead but the Black Knight issues another challenge which is quickly answered by Sir Pellinore. Hmm, guess he won't be joining the Round Table unless they plan on bringing him back from the dead. Again, the show's just messing with us by throwing in names of famous Arthurian characters.

Gaius and Merlin venture down to the crypt (without a torch, because underground crypts are renowned for being well lit) and find the shattered sarcophagus of the Black Knight. The undead knight was Uther's brother in law who decided to try and kill Uther after Uther's wife died in childbirth. Gaius consults his Fiend Folio and determines that the Black Knight is actually a wraith. Oh no! They've got level drain as a special attack. Also, you need a magic weapon to hurt them.

Pellinore lands a deadly blow on the Black Knight but the Black Knight always triumphs! So he kills Pellinore. Arthur challenges the Black Knight because he's not very bright. Uther tries to convince Arthur to back out but Arthur will not hear of it. This is mainly because Arthur doesn't know he's just signed up to fight an unkillable wraith.

Merlin decides to use magic to destroy the Black Knight but that doesn't work out too well. Merlin conjures up some fire to engulf the Black Knight but he just stands and takes it and then makes Merlin flee for his life with a single helmeted stare.

Nimueh pays Uther a visit to gloat about Arthur's impending death and to also reveal the origin of Uther's hatred of magic. Nimueh was hired by Uther to use her magic to make his wife Ygraine fertile so she could give birth to Arthur. She died in childbirth which Uther held Nimueh responsible for and he decided to destroy all magic. Well, that was a little dull but straightforward. I don't see why they had to string that mystery out for nine episodes.

Merlin decides to construct a magic sword for Arthur and chats with Geoff the Librarian about the subject. Merlin only bothers to hear the first couple of lines about a magic sword and dragon's breath and runs off. For all he knows the story could've been about a cursed sword. Merlin visits Gwen who basically offers herself to him but she is disappointed to find out that Merlin only wants her for her access to her dad's sword cabinet. Merlin steals off with Papa Gwen's best sword. Gwen spends the rest of the night frustrated.

Uther decides to take Arthur's place in the duel and employs Gaius to slip Arthur a sleeping draught to take him out. Arthur drinks Gaius's special potion and falls into a deep sleep.

Merlin visits the CGI dragon beneath the castle and asks him to breathe on it so he can make it all magicky. The dragon waffles on about making a powerful sword and destiny and blah, blah. Eventually he breathes fire on it to create Excalibur. Simple as that huh? Disappointing. The dragon warns Merlin not to let the sword fall into the wrong hands.

Which is of course exactly what Merlin does. Uther finds Merlin in the armoury and takes Excalibur off him to use in the duel. Armed with a super duper magic sword, Uther fights the Black Knight. At one point Uther knocks the Black Knight's helmet off revealing an unconvincing cadaver mask. No one screams, "Deadite!" which is disappointing again. Uther eventually stabs the Black Knight which causes the wraith to explode.

Merlin informs the dragon of Uther's victory but the dragon is super pissed at him for letting Uther take the sword. Merlin is told to take the sword far away and hide it so that mean old Uther can't use Excalibur for evil acts of evil. Merlin wanders down to the local lake (where the evil fairies lived a couple of episodes ago) and tosses Excalibur in. At least he didn't place it in a stone, that would've been really stupid.

Yawn. A paper thin plot which was evident in that two mooks that were sacrificed to the Black Knight in order to pad the episode out. The origin of Excalibur was decidedly unspectacular and it just seemed to be a case of the show using a famous name to spice up an otherwise pedestrian episode.

NEXT WEEK - Peasants! Mud! Raiders! Fighting!

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