Where do we begin? Oh, yes. Previously, on Merlin: Merlin and Arthur have been captured by the opportunistic slimebucket Ragnor and his companions. Those companions include Mordred, the young Druid who Merlin believes will kill Arthur. Everyone's favorite swashbuckling knight Gwaine and Sir Percival of the Perfect Pectorals had been captured by Bellatrix Lestrange and put to hard labor digging for the key to all knowledge. Oh, apologies, that should be Morgana who has captured our boys. Easy mistake. Glorious Gwaine had managed to get his backside whollopped by the Saxon overlords, allowing him to find and be healed by that very same key.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Gwen was dealing with the fact that her own maidservant had proven to be a spy for her father, Ruadin. Unfortunately for everyone, Ruadin was Morgana's ally and possible lieutenant.
Morgana is having nightmares again. Dark, foreboding dreams of imprisonment, where she had her puppy with wings, Aithusa, are held captive in the bottom of some sort of pit. Poor Aithusa. The youngest of the last two remaining dragons, and the creature is the pet of an obsessed high priestess. One must wonder if the little one regrets saving Morgana's life at the close of last season. Judging by the permanently sad look and constant trepidation shown by the young dragon, the answer looks to be yes.
Merlin, Arthur, and several other captured men are dragged behind Ragnor’s supply wagon as they are marched towards the Fortress of Ismere. We're going to ignore the fact that the non-magic users are showing no signs of exposure, even though they aren't all properly dressed for snowy mountain tundra, and only use an occasional bonfire to generate heat at night. Considering the lack of trees in those mountains, perhaps that supply wagon is loaded with chopped wood. Even Arthur sleeps alone away from others. He should have frozen to death. Ragnor obvious holds no value on his captives, even though he is rather anxious to get his money from Morgana. It's the little details that make life simpler and don't throw a viewer out of the story. Here, though, we are presented with the recurring question of this episode (and, from the looks of it, this season): is Mordred a hero or a villain?
Morgana is losing what little patience she might have ever had. As she stalks into her stone-scattered throne room, one is left to wonder if none of those Saxon warriors at her beck and call could be bothered to tides up. Of course, the scattered stone and ever-present spider webs on the candlelabra also illustrate her single-minded focus on the task of finding the Diamir. Ruadin might have wanted to tidy up at one point, but he's a bit preoccupied with the fact that Gwen has sentenced his daughter to death. Always the compassionate queen, Morgana assures him that Sefa's sacrifice will not be forgotten.
Ruadin's knowledge of Sefa's imprisonment raises one vitally important question. How did he know? If Sefa was Ruadin's only spy in the citadel, how did word get to him of her predicament? It would not be at all surprising to find out that the Druids have a network of spies in Camelot, all hiding their gifts from their cabbage-headed king.
Where Arthur is often daft for the plot's sake, Gwen has becone the very queen that Camelot needs. Her plot to bring Ruadin to Camelot, and especially her knowledge to only trust Gaius, is just the kind of insight that her husband has so often lacked. Where many queens in period pieces are often just royal wives, Gwen truly has become the co-regent of Camelot. Whether servant or served, Gwen has never lost her deep, abiding sense of what is right. She allows Sefa to believe the execution will take place, even to the point of building the gallows, confident that Ruadin will appear to rescue his beloved daughter.
On a side note, it is a matter of time before cosplayers in England and the U.S. latch on to deep red velvet and make copies of the rather epic regal dress Guinevere has worn in this two-parter. It's definitely one of the more breathtaking pieces from the BBC's gifted costume designers.
When the time comes for escape, we discover that perhaps Arthur hasn't been quite his usual self. Feigning weakness, he manages to steal a dagger from Ragnor. With Merlin causing a spill from the supply wagon, they use the distraction to make their break. Arthur has used the dagger to cut his own bindings, allowing him to grab his sword and a crossbow from the wagon before he and Merlin make a break for it. Could the Arthur who had been unable to see not one, but two enemies in his midst finally be catching on?
Not quite, as he decides to spare Mordred's life when the young man proves to be their fourth pursuer across the icy tundra. Bolts from Arthur’s crossbow met the first three pursuers. However, as Mordred showed them kindness, even as he was leading them to their deaths, Arthur chooses to spare his life. Merlin is not as sanguine with the idea as his king.
Guinevere’s confidence pays off, as Ruadin breaks into Camelot to free his daughter. Mind, he starts by shooting an arrow through a glass window and scaling the tower behind two of Camelot’s guards. Obviously, Morgana captured the soldiers with the better hearing. Two of the endless supply of guards fall before Ruadin makes it to Sefa’s cell and frees her. Considering how hard Arthur used to work his fellow knights before he attained the throne, these days, guards in Camelot seem to be like stormtroopers on the Death Star. Not the sharpest swords in the sheath. Which leaves the path open for Sir Elyan, brother of Guinevere, to step in and catch Ruadin and Sefa as they are trying to make their escape. It does not take long for Elyan to deliver the killing blow. Conjuring a wall of flame, the dying Ruadin gets his daughter out of Camelot.
Thanks to Arthur’s overdeveloped sense of duty and loyalty to his men, he and Merlin are soon on their way back to the Fortress of Ismere. There’s no way inside the fortress, or is there? Merlin gets to take point as he and Arthur crawl through the one opening no fortress ever seems to put a guard on: the garbage chute. In another whiskey, tango, foxtrot moment, we see Merlin crawling up the chute ahead of Arthur, but when we see them reach the opening onto one of the underground courtyards (yes, really, the garbage chute seems to start at the top of an underground courtyard), Arthur is in the lead. It’s time for the boys to start blending in.
Meanwhile, Ragnor has regrouped and reached Ismere with eight of his captives. Morgana ignores him, as she immediately recognizes Mordred.
Arthur finds Percival, and tasks him with gathering the men for a proper rebellion. Granted, Arthur did leave a sword with Percival, but was that really all it took to get the group to start fighting back? Arthur’s first task? Finding the runaway Gwaine the Gadfly. Percival manages to get the group to stand up to the Saxons, but when Arthur and Merlin finally find the errant knight? They encounter the Diamir in all its alien glory. Fortunately for the Diamir, Gwaine protects its identity. He’s not quite sure what it is, but he owes it his life.
They also find Aithusa. As Arthur doesn’t know about Merlin’s status as a Dragon Lord, Merlin has to convince Arthur he’s going to go do something utterly stupid. As Arthur is, well, Arthur, he has no difficulty believing it. Merlin finds an Aithusa that behaves like an abused dog. The dragon has lost its ability to speak. What harm had befallen Morgana and Aithusa in the three years between the seasons?
Morgana once again gets Arthur in her talons as the king is searching for Merlin. Morgana has Mordred at her back as she attacks her brother with the magicks of a high priestess. When both Merlin and Arthur are unable to lift a finger to save themselves, it is Mordred who once again asks the audience to decide if he is hero or villain. Mordred pulls his dagger, stabbing Morgana and getting Arthur out of harm’s way.
Merlin is left behind, where he encounters the Diamir in all her glory. She offers Merlin the answer to a question, but he doesn’t believe it would be good. He does, however, ask the one question of this entire two-part story. Just what is Arthur’s bane?
Himself. Yes, our beloved cabbage head is his own worst enemy.
As Arthur dubs Mordred a knight of Camelot, Merlin is left with the knowledge that he has seen Mordred kill the king.
Albion’s great trial has begun, and in our next adventure, that trial will include the return of Uther Pendragon.
Rating: 3.5/4 stars out of 5. A good start, and an excellent setup for what hopefully will be a season-long question of Mordred’s loyalty.