Friday, 2 October 2009

TV Snark - Merlin: Once and Future Queen OR I Preferred This Story When It Was Called "A Knight’s Tale"

The second episode of Merlin’s sophomore series has come and gone. Did it improve on the weak opening episode or did the quality, *gulp*, decline? Let’s take a look at the events of the episode shall we?

The episode opens with a brooding kingly type (King Odin) hiring an assassin called Myror to find and kill Prince Arthur for murdering his son. The assassin is played by Adrian Lester, one of the ‘stars’ of Bonekickers. I watched every damned minute of that ridiculous show so seeing Lester in the episode did not fill me with hope, especially as he was playing the part of a deadly assassin. Lester uses some stuntman kung fu to impress the Not-Uther-King and so he’s hired! Arthur is surely doomed. Look at Lester’s fighting technique in Bonekickers:

I apologise for exposing you to Bonekickers.

Back in Camelot Arthur practices his jousting for the upcoming tournament but he becomes angry when he finds out that his employees aren’t keen on hitting him in the face with a jousting lance. The lackeys, quite rightly, don’t want to endanger the prince’s life, even in training. This makes Arthur stroppy as he suspects that he’s only won tournaments in the past because his men have deliberately lost to him. Arthur then concocts a scheme to enter the tournament anonymously (I quite liked this development as it’s a standard trope of the medieval tournament/jousting genre and showed that maybe the writers had done a bit of homework, or at the very least had watched “A Knight’s Tale”).

Arthur approaches Uther with a tale of some vague magical monster threat somewhere far off so that he can pretend to leave town for a few days during the tournament. Uther’s psychotic hatred of anything slightly magical blinds him to Arthur’s lies so he allows him to ride off. Arthur sends his men off to God-knows-where and doubles back to Camelot wearing a giant disguise cloak that people in BBC fantasy shows where when they want to remain incognito. Merlin arranges for Arthur to stay at Gwen’s house so he can remain in hiding. Merlin then finds a farmer to pose as the public face of Prince Arthur during the tournament. The farmer has been made up to look like the epitome of the word ‘bumpkin’ as he has wild hair and a scruffy beard and a slightly mad look in his eyes. Arthur doesn’t seem to mind though and after a brief training sequence they manage to get the farmer walking and talking like a human being rather than a mental.

Arthur then commits a faux pas as he takes Gwen’s bed and indirectly forces her to sleep on a few sacks of vegetables and grain instead. Gwen is upset but she doesn’t say anything because Arthur’s the prince and he’s kind of a dick anyway.

Later on, Adrian Lester waits in a tree with a crossbow modified with a sniper scope in order to assassinate Arthur. Arthur isn’t with the fake monster hunting expedition into the wilds though and so he leaves for Camelot so he can find out where the prince is. Once Lester reaches Camelot he wastes little time in killing a guard so he can show off how badass and evil he is and then talks to his man on the inside. The traitor redshirt fed Lester the information about Arthur’s expedition but doesn’t know where the prince is now. Lester is temporarily foiled so he decides to hang around and follow Arthur’s servant Merlin in the hope he’ll reveal where Arthur is.

Uther finds out that the assassin is in town when the dead guard is found and one of King Odin's knights turns up and explains the assassination plot to Uther. This doesn't really change anything as Uther merely frowns and stomps about a bit.

There's some lancing action as Arthur rides in the tournament disguised as 'Sir William' and manages to defeat his opponents. At this point I notice that Arthur's armour is the same as the lead character William's is in "A Knight's Tale". Is this homage or rip off? I really can't tell. The jousts are well performed and shot although there isn't really an explanation of the rules or what prize is at stake. I guess that's detail they didn't need for the episode though. Still, would've been nice. Arthur can't wait to win the tournament and reveal himself as the true 'Sir William'. The farmer looks a bit disappointed but then he should be thankful he's getting to pretend to be nobility and not covered in mud in the middle of a field.

Gwen and Arthur have a romantic subplot as Gwen eventually takes Arthur to task on his rudeness and arrogance. She doesn't like his attitude and Arthur doesn't like living as a peasant but he eventually offers to cook her a meal to make up for his behaviour. He then promptly cheats and orders take-out from the palace kitchens. Gwen enjoys the meal but doesn't like the lazy gesture, there's some more lecturing and banter from the two until eventually they kiss. Finally, this show has actually introduced some romance rather than awkward flirting between Merlin and Gwen. I don't know where this leaves Morgana though. Speaking of which where is she? Oh, that's right she's sat in the background during the jousting like a freakin' extra! Seriously, she does nothing this week other than look pretty in the background. Nothing at all. What a waste.

Eventually Adrian Lester uses his common sense to follow Merlin around until he sees Merlin in a tent helping Arthur with his armour. Lester decides to murder another knight and take his armour so he can joust in the final with Arthur. Lester plans to use a lance THAT IS EXACTLY THE SAME AS THE ONE RUFUS SEWELL USES AT THE END OF "A KNIGHT'S TALE." It's even the same design, a fist with a blade beneath, although the one in "A Knight's Tale" was more feasible as the fist was designed to break on impact, allowing the spike to drive into the opponent. Lester's lance is a switchblade device which is all well and good but he's knackered if he breaks it in the first tilt. And another thing, where did he get that lance from? Was he carrying it around in his murder bag just for this special occasion? Or was the original knight planning to cheat anyway? It's a mystery.

Arthur and Adrian Lester go at it and Arthur is wounded during the first tilt (or round, or attempt to smash each other in the face with a long wooden pole; whatever you wish to call it, I will use tilt). Merlin spots that Lester's lance is designed for murder and during the second tilt Merlin uses his powers *telekinesisagain* to break Lester's saddle and win Arthur the tournament. Arthur decides not to celebrate and allows the farmer to take the credit. I assume the farmer is later ridiculed and embarrassed at the feast held in his honour as he can't dance or speak without sounding like a weirdo.

Arthur concocts a story, to satisfy Uther, of how he met the assassin on the road to Camelot and killed him. Arthur then explains to Gwen that they may never be together as his father would never allow it as she's a scruffy peasant. Gwen hopes that will change once Uther's kicked the bucket.

Meanwhile, the dragon sits under Camelot wondering why Merlin hasn't visited him this episode. The director then shows him the extortionate per episode cost of including him in a story so he gently sighs and goes back to his crossword.

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