Merlin Club: Excalibur or The One Where Uther Momentarily Grows the Ability to Parent
This episode opens with our favorite villain, Nimueh, in the burial vaults beneath Camelot casting a spell over one of the sarcophaguses – the only words that aren’t in Old English are Uther Pendragon. So you know *that’s* not gonna end well. And as if to underscore that fact, up pops an armored hand through the stone lid.
After the credits roll, we see Uther crowning Arthur Prince of Camelot. I thought that he already wasthe prince, but an awesome Tweep let me know that it’s really not official until the ceremony. And they still do this little song and dance today. I was not aware. Have I mentioned that I love Twitter?
So anyway, Uther give Arthur a super snazzy bedazzled crown and before the applause fades, a knight on horseback in scarred black armor bursts through the stained glass window at the back of the hall because this is
a BBC show, shocking everyone. Arthur and the rest of the knights draw their swords while Uther and Gaius look like they’ve seen a ghost.
The black knight throws down his gauntlet, and Arthur moves to pick it up, but before he can, Sir Owain scoops it up off the floor. The knight announces that it’ll be single combat, noon tomorrow and to the death, then calmly rides from the great hall with everyone staring after him in open-mouthed shock.
Later that evening, Merlin quizzes Gaius about the black night and asks if Gaius recognized him. In this scene, we discover that Gaius is a terrible liar. Just dreadful, really. Clearly, Gaius has a very good idea of what’s up, and it don’t think Merlin was buying it either.
Meanwhile, Morgana is trying to get Arthur to put a stop to tomorrow’s challenge demanding that Arthur either stop it or fight in Owain’s place. Arthur explains that that won’t happen because of the knight’s code. Morgana is freaked because it’s a fight to the death and Arthur isn’t thrilled about it either.
Liar-Liar-Pants Gaius rushes into the library to meet with Geoffery the castle historian and they urgently discuss the black knight. Geoffery confirms that it’s Tristan Dubois, exactly who Gaius feared it was. Gaius goes to Uther’s council room where Uther is sitting at the table with his sword out looking completely wigged out. They discuss how the knight bore the crest of Tristan Dubois and Uther says that’s impossible because he killed the man himself.
Cut to the next morning and Merlin is helping Owain dress for battle while Arthur is pacing around giving him pointers and Owain for his part is being a little cocky. He gets cockier when Gwen comes in with a token from Morgana for him to wear. Also Owain’s eyebrows are so faint that it looks like he doesn’t have any which is very disconcerting for the viewer. At least, it was for me.
They enter the arena where the black knight is already waiting and a violent fight ensues. Owain is holding his own even though the black knight is the superior warrior, but Owain gets a belly thrust in and it looks like he’s going to win. Except that it doesn’t. The black knight doesn’t even have to walk it off and shaken, Owain loses the upper hand and the knight knocks him to the ground and kills him. He immediately takes off his gauntlet and tosses it down on the ground again asks for another challenger.
Arthur leaps up, but Uther grabs his arm and stops him and in that brief pause, Sir Pelinore jumps into the ring and accepts the challenge. Arthur is pissed. Merlin makes the comment that the knight should be dead and Gaius says, “Perhaps he already is.” (Pssst, Merlin. Gaius is totally keeping info from you.)
Arthur follows his father into the castle where they argue about Uther stopping him from accepting the challenge and Uther gives him this total line of BS about letting the knights prove themselves. He knows that there’s no way to kill this dude, but he’s apparently willing to sacrifice another knight to him. In fact, he says it’s Pelinore’s fault that he’s going to die because he volunteered – not his. Hellllloooooooo, douchecanoe.
Merlin and Gaius go down to the burial chambers and discover that someone has broken out of Tristan Dubois’ crypt. Then Gaius does some handy dandy expository dialogue explaining to Merlin that Tristan was Ygraine’s brother (Arthur’s mom/Uther’s wife) and when Ygraine died in childbirth, Tristan blamed Uther and rode to the gates of Camelot to challenge him. Uther won, and cursed Camelot to suffer his return. Gaius suspects that they’re dealing with a wraith – even points out a picture of one in one of his super useful research books. Gaius says that no mortal weapon can kill it and it won’t stop until it gets what it came for – revenge.
The next morning, Pelinore is fighting the black knight and doing well. He even gets in what should have been a death blow. But it does nothing, and the black knight kills him. The knight is about to issue his challenge again when another gauntlet hits the field and Arthur challenges the knight to fight. Uther looks horrified, and the knight accepts with the favored phrase of bad guys everywhere, “So be it.”
Uther reams Arthur a new one and demands that he revoke the challenge. Arthur refuses because of the knight’s code. Uther says this is different because Arthur is crown prince. Arthur points out that there can’t be one rule for him and another for the rest of the knights. Uther forbids him to fight. And Arthur says that Uther wants him to prove he’s worthy of the throne, but he can’t do that by being a coward.
Merlin is freaking the hell out about Arthur fighting and is trying to figure out a way to save Arthur. Meanwhile the black knight is standing out in the yard, staring up at the castle, just waiting. Gaius goes to Uther to tell him that Tristan’s tomb is empty and Gaius believes he’s been conjured from the dead. Gaius tells him he can’t let Arthur fight – no weapon forged by man will kill a wraith. Gaius tells Uther that he needs to tell Arthur the truth about who the knight is. Uther says, rather petulantly, “I am the king. You can not tell me what I can or cannot do.” Uther says that no one must ever know the circumstances of Arthur’s birth and reminds Gaius that he swore an oath. Gaius leaves.
Meanwhile, Merlin tries to use some fire magic on the black knight, but it goes out and then the knight looks at Merlin and he runs. Merlin goes immediately to Arthur and begs him to pull out. Arthur refuses.
Next we see Uther drinking himself into a stupor when Nimueh appears and through some more expository dialogue we discover that the big secret surrounding Arthur’s birth is that Uther had Nimueh cast the spell that allowed Ygraine to conceive Arthur. And that magic requires a life for a life and that if Nimueh had seen the destruction of her people following Ygraine’s death, she never would have cast the spell in the first place. And Uther rather remorsefully says, I wish you hadn’t. Guilt and recriminations are a bitch.
Merlin lets himself into Geoffery’s library and Geoffery is not pleased to find him in there after hours. Merlin tells him that he’s looking for a book for Gaius that will help them find a weapon that will kill a wraith, and Geoffery tells him about an old fable involving a dragon forged sword. And Merlin gets a great idea and shows up on Gwen’s doorstep. He asks for her father’s strongest sword to save Arthur.
Morgana goes to Arthur’s room and asks him not to fight. He says it’s his duty and leaves looking all sad and dejected.
Then Uther goes to Gaius’ chambers and actually utters the words, “I’m sorry.” Wait. I’ll repeat that in case you missed it. Uther apologizes. Of course, he wants something from Gaius, but he still says he’s sorry and seems to mean it. Uther can’t let Arthur die and says that he needs to take Arthur’s place. Ygraine died for Arthur and he will, too. Once he’s dead, the wraith will leave. But Uther demands that Gaius honor his promise not to ever reveal the secret of Arthur’s birth. Gaius reluctantly agrees.
Gwen gives Merlin the sword and Merlin runs back to the castle and down into the pit to see the dragon. He asks him to burnish the sword in order to save Arthur. Dragon tells him that only Arthur can wield the sword. The dragon breaths fire on the sword and letters appear on the blade. The dragon reminds him to heed his words.
Gaius goes to Arthur’s chambers and gives him something to take the edge off his nerves. Apparently it took ALL the edges off, because it drugs him into unconsciousness. The next morning, the knight is out in the field bright and early waiting to wreak havoc while Merlin is hanging out in the armory admiring his super awesome wraith killing sword. Uther enters and admires the blade, too then tells Merlin to prepare him for battle.
Merlin says that Arthur was to fight, but Uther is all screw that – the knight’s grievance was with me, I’ll do it. So Merlin helps ready him for battle. And Uther decides that he’s going to use the dragon forged blade because it will likely make any difference. Merlin tries to talk him out of it, but typical Uther, he does what he wants. After all, he is king.
Uther acknowledges for once that Merlin is a good servant to Arthur, and tells him to look after Arthur. Uther strolls out on the field dressed for battle and looking exceptionally hot. Uther tells the wraith he can have what he came for – the father not the son. And the fight begins. Meanwhile, Arthur wakes up, drugged and headachey and quickly realizes he’s been screwed over. His door is locked from the outside and he can’t get out. He throws himself against the door repeatedly.
Uther and the wraith are still going at it. Uther knocks off the wraith’s helmet revealing his decayed face to the crowd. They fight some more and Uther eventually runs him through with the sword and the knight explodes and disappears. Uther drops the sword and the crowd goes wild.
Cut to Gaius tending Uther’s wounds and notices the fancy new sword. Then Arthur busts in looking piiiiiiiiiiiissssssssssssed and gets into with his father for having him drugged. Uther says that he couldn’t risk Arthur’s life because he means more to him than the entire kingdom and more than his own life. Arthur is confused and says that he always thought he was a disappointment to Uther. Uther says that was his fault – not anything Arthur did. And we have Uther taking the blame twice in this episode. Then the heartfelt moment dissipates with the realization that they’re having a heartfelt moment.
Over supper, Gaius stares at Merlin and quizzes him about the sword. Later than night, Merlin is awakened by the dragon who wants know how everything went down. Merlin confesses that Uther used the sword and there is a dragon tantrum of epic proportion. He tells Merlin that he’s betrayed him. He has to take the sword and place it where no mortal man can ever find it. Merlin goes to the armory the next morning, sneaks the sword out and brings it to a beautiful lake and casts it in and it gracefully sinks to the bottom.
Now, for the questions!
1. If I’d written this episode, I would have
have had more of an exchange between Morgana and Arthur when she goes to him and asks him not to fight. Something really seemed to be missing from that scene.
2. The thing I loved/hated most about this episode. I think the part I loved most is when Uther admits he was wrong to Nimueh and tells Arthur how much he means to him. Granted, it won’t necessarily translate into future episodes, but I appreciated it here. I also really enjoyed the exchange between Uther and Nimueh. Oh! And Duh! I really loved this treatment of the creation of Excalibur! Nicely done, writers!
I hated the fact that Uther wasn’t concerned enough about Pelinore to do shit about it.
3. Something you’ve never noticed about this episode before. When Uther was sitting alone after Owain was killed, I didn’t realize he had his sword laying on the table just waiting for someone to attack.
4. Favorite Costume. This week, I’ve gotta give it to the wraith of Tristan Dubois. That is not the armor of of a man…or an undead man…who’s fucking around.
5. Here is Proof of some random head canon I’ve created. I’ve really got nothing in this episode.
6. What Merthur moment did Jess have the naughtiest thoughts about? Again, very little Merthurness in this episode. But, I’m gonna have to say when Merlin was giving Arthur the puppy dog eyes and begging him not to fight. I’m sure Jess was thinking of ways that Merlin could have convinced him…you know before Arthur pulled the sword on him.
7. What made Jen lose her shit (in a good or bad way) in this episode? In a good way, it would have to be the almost wistful smile Uther gives Gaius when they’re talking in Gaius’ chambers. And I’m guessing her ovaries probably exploded when Uther strode on to the field of battle.
You can read Jess’ recap here and Jen’s recap here! And you can join us for Merlin Club on Twitter on Monday nights at 8pm EST – #MerlinClub