TV REVIEW For the love of Camelot! The prophesy comes to pass in the final episode of Merlin
Merlin 5.13 “The Diamond Of The Day (Part 2)” [REVIEW]
I think Morgana’s for the chop.
5.13 “The Diamond Of The Day (Part 2)” Writer: Julian Jones Director: Justin Molotnikov
THE ONE WHERE Thanks to Merlin’s sorcery Camelot wins the battle of Camlann, but it’s a costly victory. In the aftermath, Merlin finally reveals his magic to Arthur…
VERDICT … and then apparently lives until the 21st century where he goes hiking around Glastonbury as an old man. That was a peculiar and unforeseen final few seconds! But it’s good that Merlin ends with something unexpected and light-hearted because that sort of mischievous take on the legend has characterised the show from the start.
I was greatly moved by this. Not for the perfunctory confrontations between our heroes and villains – the important deaths felt rushed. But I loved it for its emotional content and for the time Arthur and Merlin spend together. Merlin’s touching revelation to the king and their subsequent last few hours alone almost justifies the missed opportunity to give Mordred and Morgana a decent ending.
The battle picks up instantly from last week, with its shadowy 300-like vibe in the mountain pass, but this time they have the sorcerer Emrys to help them out. Finally he starts throwing around the kind of powerful lightning attacks we’ve wanted to see for ages! And it works: the Saxons are defeated and with his dragonlord powers Emrys is even able to send away Aithusa. From Merlin’s perspective the battle is triumphant and it’s a striking vision of him on the hillside casting bolts of magic against their enemies. We’re treated to yet more epic scenes as Emrys strides amongst the bodies of fallen knights and then carries his friend’s body out of the valley.
We’re barely six minutes in before the clash with Mordred. “You gave me no choice” is his only line tonight and it’s a considerable sadness that somebody we’d grown to think of as significant vanishes so quickly. It’s his blade that pierces Arthur but this is no grand final confrontation; Mordred gets no sense of vengeance on Kara’s behalf. Both this and Merlin’s final stab at Morgana are underwhelming, swift resolutions which make me think, “Was that it?” To her credit, Katie McGrath gives a great performance in her few short scenes, shrieking, “I want him dead!” Morgana manages to dispatch Gwaine with the Nathair but I can’t help feeling that the sub-plot with Eira is a distraction. Percival and Gwaine get to chop up some Saxons but the scene of their captivity in the forest just delays Morgana getting to Arthur – but not by much.
The real meat of this episode is Merlin and Arthur having the conversation they should have had for years. It begins with them revealing how much they care about each other (Arthur’s cry of “Where have you been?!”), continues with Arthur’s revelation that he is the sorcerer Emyris (which Arthur is shocked by and initially rejects, partly because he’s stung that he’s been lied to) and ends with acceptance and restored comradeship… just in time for the king’s departure. Merlin’s tearful confession that he’s the sorcerer as they lie on the ground is excellent and reminds me once again how lucky we’ve been with Colin Morgan in the lead role. Although Arthur’s initial reaction is bafflement and, briefly, rejection, their long-established friendship wins out. It’s a subtle turning point when Arthur starts to joke with Merlin again: “So you’re not an idiot – that was another lie!” He realises that Merlin hasn’t sought any credit for what he’s done over the years and fondly says, “I don’t want you to change, I want you to always be you.” It seems a full reconciliation has occurred, especially when he apologises for how he treated him and thanks him. I can’t be the only one with a lump in my throat as Arthur’s dying body drifts away from Merlin on the boat.
So despite the odd pacing, the characters get an emotional resolution of sorts – even the Great Dragon – and the scenes with Arthur and Merlin are heartbreaking. It’s hard to believe this is the same show that gave us farting goblins or Lady Catrina the Troll. It’s gone on a tremendous journey from light-hearted teatime romp to something darker and more poignant. We’ll miss it.
It’s the last battle these chaps will fight together.
DO YOU SIDHE WHAT I SIDHE? Gaius says that only the sídhe (pronounced “shee”) possess the magic to keep Arthur alive and so he must go to them at Avalon. The sídhe, in modern Irish aos sí, are a supernatural race a bit like elves or fairies in Celtic mythology. They give us the term banshee for a wailing female spirit (bean sídhe).
SLASH BAIT Plenty of Merthur fans to enjoy – there’s some magnificent bromance as Merlin cares for Arthur and journeys with him to Avalon. It’s all very sad but slash writers could go to town with Merlin pulling off Arthur’s boots and holding him close (Gwen is right to say that Merlin “will take good care of him”). If the other knights are more your thing, then Percival and Gwaine could kiss right there in the forest after their encounter with Morgana. But again, very gloomy circumstances.
GWEN KNOWS ALL Gaius and Gwen are working hard during the battle, staffing a sort of M*A*S*H. What’s interesting is that Gwen guesses the truth about Merlin during this episode although the two don’t meet. Before that, though, Gaius had been dropping pretty big hints:
Guinevere: “Who is that?”
Gaius: “Someone truly remarkable.”
Guinevere: “You know him?”
Gaius: “Let’s just say he deserves our gratitude.”
Young Merlin returns for most of the episode, thank goodness.
MISTS OF AVALON The isle of Avalon appears here to be Glastonbury Tor, long associated with Arthurian legend. The tower on the ancient hill is St Michael’s Church. Allegedly the tomb of Arthur and Guinevere was found here by monks in the 12th century – monks who were suspiciously in need of money and stood to gain a lot from pilgrims. Nonetheless, the graves of a man and a woman were moved to the nearby abbey and duly labelled as that of the king and queen. Modern archaeology has discovered evidence of sub-Roman structures on the site and Glastonbury Tor is a fascinating place; if you want to follow in the footsteps of beardy Merlin the place is managed by the National Trust so fill your boots.
HERBALISM 101 Four herbs get an alchemical shout-out today, as Gaius and Merlin quarrel over what would be best for Arthur. Gaius has brought comphrey (symphytum officinale) which is thought to be good for cell growth and to tackle inflammation, but it’s poisonous and should only be used externally. An anxious Merlin wishes that Gaius had instead found yarrow (achillea millefolium), lady’s mantle (alchemilla mollis) or sticklewort (agrimonia eupatoria, a species of agrimony and a relative of the rose family which you can apparently drink for help with anaemia and heart disease).
NITPICK Where did Merlin get a horse? [NB People with a better memory than me say Gwaine and Merlin rode to the Crystal Cave last week, so that explains that.]
Morgana and Mordred don’t get much screen time this week.
THE LEGEND In Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur (book 21, chapter five) it is Sir Bedivere who survives Camlann with Arthur and who takes him to the water’s edge. Arthur tells Bedivere to throw the sword into the lake but the knight pretends to do so a couple of times before finally slinging it in – and that’s when he sees “an arm and an hand above the water [which] met it, and caught it, and so shook it thrice and brandished, and then vanished away.” Here the honours are performed by Merlin. I don’t recall there ever being a Sir Bedivere in TV’s Merlin. At the end of this story, Guinevere becomes queen of Camelot but in Malory she goes to become a nun Almesbury (by the way, the modern name Jennifer is descended from Guinevere, via Cornish). According to Geoffrey Of Monmouth, the king who took over after Arthur’s death in battle was in fact Constantine III, son of the Duke of Cornwall.
SO THIS IS THE END After five years we come to the end of Merlin. Thank you to everybody who’s been reading and commenting on these reviews, contributing to our forum and chatting with me on Twitter. It’s been a privilege to write about this show and I hope you had as much fun as me. Thanks also to the cast, crew, writers and creators who I was fortunate to meet on a number of occasions and who always had time for SFX. It looks like it was a blast making the series and I wish them all well in the future. In summary, I think my favourite episode of this series was “The Death Song Of Uther Pendragon” and my favourite series overall was series four (2011). Let me know yours!
BEST LINE Merlin: “I’m a sorcerer. I have magic. And I use it for you Arthur. Only for you.”