Merlin Club: Le Morte d’Arthur or The One Where I Can’t Get Songs from Spam-a-lot and the Holy Grail Out of My Head
I can’t believe we’ve finished season one already. I also can’t believe I’ve been religiously blogging for thirteen weeks straight without missing. Yay, Merlin Club pressure! 😀
This episode opens with Arthur, Merlin and four knights of Camelot creeping through the wood on a hunt as well as Arthur being annoyed with Merlin. Again. (And yet, he keeps him around – must be true love.)
Anyway, this ginormous beast shows up – body of a Wampa sized snow leopard and the head of a snake – and everyone runs away screaming. Which immediately got this song stuck in my head for the next three days.
I digress. Back to the recap. They all run away and Merlin falls down. Right before the beast gets him, Arthur and another knight return for him, and Arthur lifts him up and drags him out of danger (and Jess’ panties fall off). Unfortunately, the other man, Sir Bedivere, we find out, gets ganked by the beast.
After the credits, we find ourselves in Uther’s council chambers where Gaius is telling everyone that it sounds like The Questing Beast. Arthur very disdainfully says that the Questing Beast in a myth. Really, Arthur? You just saw a giant snake-leopard thing in the woods, it eats your buddy and again, head of snake and body of snow leopard and you’re just gonna dismiss magic out of hand? Gaius warns that it’s an omen of the Old Religion and Uther dimisses, calling the Questing Beast an old wives’ tale, and I lost my damn mind.
Even though they refuse to believe it’s magic, Uther decides it must be killed and tells Arthur he rides at dawn. Gaius tells Uther that he’s seen the beast once before – the night Ygraine (Arthur’s mother) died. Uther shuts him right down and reminds Gaius that he’s been told not to speak of that night again. He goes on to say that warnings of the Old Religion mean nothing to him, because he’s conquered it.
Gaius, determined to be heard, warns Merlin that the beast carried the power of life and death – just like the Old Religion. (Side note: everyone in this show goes on and on about the Old Religion, but what’s replaced it. Other than the occasional reference to “God” we have no indication that there’s anything taking its place.) Okay, back to the plot, Gaius tells Merlin that one bite from the Questing Beast, and the victim dies and there’s no cure.
That night, during a mood setting thunderstorm, of course, Morgana has a bad dream about dragons, Questing Beasts, Merlin yelling and Arthur looking dead. She wakes on a scream and Gwen runs into the room and tries to comfort her. Doesn’t Gwen ever go home anymore?
The next morning, Arthur is giving the nights a pep talk about killing the beast when Morgana runs to him still in her jammies and flips out, begging him not to go. Arthur seems annoyed and has knights escort (read: drag) Morgana back to her chamber.
So the hunting party follows the beasts trail through the woods and into the cave (DRINK!)
and Merlin and Arthur go in one direction while the knights go in another. Merlin and Arthur, after stumbling across a plethora of skulls and bones, inevitably meet the beast. Unfortunately, at that point, I had lines from the Paper Bag Princess stuck in my head – “He (the dragon) was easy to follow because he left a trail of burnt forests and horses’ bones.” Anyway, Arthur fights it, but the beast wins, biting Arthur and rendering him unconscious. Merlin magic’s Arthur’s sword right into the beast’s throat and it dies. Merlin, realizing that Arthur is injured calls for help and they frantically bring him back to Camelot.
Merlin and the knights carry him to Gaius’ chamber where they lay him on Gaius’ work table. The guards go to tell the king while Merlin desperately tries to cast healing spells on Arthur. They don’t work. Uther comes in the chamber freaking the fuck out because Arthur is dying – you know the same Arthur he sent out to fight the deadly beast. Uther, utterly grief stricken, lifts Arthur from the table and carries him to his chamber with heavy halting steps while weeping openly.
Look, I’m not gonna sit here and lie to you and tell you that grieving Uther isn’t hot as hell. Part of it is the beauty that’s Anthony Stewart Head, and part of it is the fact that this bitter asshole of a man truly does love his son. Of course, there’s also anger because why the hell can you show it other times, Uther!? Why does it take your son being at death’s door to be a fucking parent!? Finally, it’s too much for him and he falls to his knees sobbing and the knights came and take Arthur to his room while Merlin looks as though he’s going to cry and Morgana looks out her window, completely unsurprised, but still sad.
Merlin races down to the dragon’s prison to ask for help. The dragon tells him that he needs to use the powers of the Old Religion to save Arthur. Merlin says that the Old Religion died out centuries ago. Really, Merlin? I thought you were clever. What do you think the druids and other magic users you’ve been dealing with all season were all about!? Dumbass. (Sorry, Jess.)
The dragon tells Merlin to go to the Isle of the Blessed where those who still hold dominion over life and death are holed up. The dragon tells him that Arthur must live no matter the cost. Merlin goes to Gaius’ chamber were Gaius tells him to bring Arthur a potion to ease his passing. (Apparently, Gaius was ready to call it.) and Merlin is all, “No I’m going to save him,” and tells Gaius about his plan for going to The Isle of the Blessed. Gaius flips shit over the thought of Merlin going there and tries to talk him out of it by telling him that they’ll demand a life in return for saving Arthur. Merlin is determined and goes anyway. Gaius relents and gives Merlin a map to the Isle of the Blessed.
Merlin rides through a mist shrouded wood while Arthur, feverish, suffers the effects of the Questing Beast’s bite. Uther sits beside him soothes him. It’s very sweet. Eventually, Gaius take Uther’s place and then Gwen. She takes care of Arthur, soothing his fever and talking to him about how he’s going to survive and be a great king.
Meanwhile, Merlin finds the lake that surrounds the Isle of the Blessed and takes a little rickety rowboat to get there – there looks not unlike the ruins at Glastonbury – but anyway, once he gets there, he runs into good old Nimueh.
She tells him that she’ll help, but that the balance of the earth must be restored and to do that, a life must be taken. He offers his life in return for Arthur’s. She says that it’s not that simple and he’s all, “whatever the price, I’ll pay it” still thinking they’re talking his life.
Nimueh pulls the Cup of Life out of thin air and tells him that if Arthur drinks water from that cup, he’ll live. She also creates a storm out of thin air and fills the cup with rainwater, then puts it in an ornate little holder. She says, all sultry-like, “The bargain is struck. I hope it pleases you.” Merlin shakes it off and returns to Camelot and shows Gaius the water. Gaius flips shit wanting to know what price he paid and whose life he bargained. C’mon Gaius. Why are you freaking now? You knew that was the plan from the beginning.
But he gives Arthur the water anyway, and Uther busts in and demands to know what Gaius is giving Arthur. Gaius totally lies then suggests that Uther allow Arthur to rest. Uther says he won’t leave him. Really, Uther? Really? Because where have you been the rest of the time your kid has been on his death bed!?
Gaius and Merlin leave, but Morgana pulls Merlin into a little alcove looking all crazy-eyed and tells him that he must beware – that this is only the beginning. Later that night, Arthur wakes to find Uther slumped over and sleeping on the bed beside him. Gaius tells Merlin that Arthur lives and Merlin is thrilled, and Gaius is upset because he fears that Merlin will die.
Uther visits Arthur as he’s recuperating. Arthur says that feels like he had someone watching over him. And Uther says that maybe he has a guardian angel. Another very Christian concept. So is Christianity the New Religion? If so, why not come out and say it? The earliest Arthurian stories didn’t have Christian overtones, but many were rewritten to include them and those are the ones the general populace is the most familiar with, so why were the writers dancing around the topic?
Sorry…back to the plot. That night, there’s another mood setting thunderstorm – must be the rainy season in Camelot and Merlin is sitting on his bed, basically waiting to die. Later that night, a hooded figure schlumps into Camelot and heads to Merlin and Gaius’ chamber. It’s Hunith, Merlin’s mother and she’s wheezing and covered with horrible boils and is apparently dying from them.
Merlin wakes up and is all excited because he’s alive, then he discovers his mother on the floor and freaks the hell out. He’s gutted because he bargained his life, not his mother’s. Gaius says there’s nothing he can do because it’s not a natural illness. He promises his mother that he’ll make her better and goes down to see the dragon. Merlin is furious with the dragon because he knew what would happen. And the dragon is basically “too bad, so sad.” The dragon tells him that his mom won’t die in vain. And Merlin tells him that he’ll never release the dragon and he’ll never see Merlin again. Cue dragon temper tantrum.
Merlin returns to Gaius’ chambers and tells him that he has to save her. Basically, he’s going back to the Isle of the Blessed to make another deal with Nimueh this time to heal his mother in return for his life – no one else’s. Gaius tries to talk him out of it, but Merlin won’t be budged and they have a heartfelt moment about all the things Gaius taught him. Then Merlin goes to say goodbye to Arthur without really letting on what he’s doing. It’s a sweetly amusing scene that really shows the depth of Merlin’s affection for Arthur. And Arthur knows that something’s off, but he’s not sure what.
He returns to his room to check on his mother and finds Gwen taking care of Hunith. She says that Gaius went for supplies. He says his subtle goodbyes to Gwen, too and his mom. When he leaves the room, he finds a letter that Gaius wrote to him about sacrificing himself to Nimueh because he’s old and has lived his life and Merlin has so much promise – blah blah blah. Merlin, of course, takes off after Gaius.
Gaius and Nimueh have a little chat involving some expository dialogue about the spell they cast for Uther and how he Gaius stood by and watched their friends burn. Nimueh toys with him some more then finally agrees to take his life to save Hunith.
Merlin shows up and Nimueh tells him his mother is safe. Gaius is slumped on the ground and Nimueh tries to convince Merlin to join forces with her. Merlin isn’t having it and he and Nimueh have a magic battle royale with fireballs and everything until Merlin summons lightning
and rain from the sky and fries Nimueh until she explodes in a pile of toasty sorceress bits.
Merlin runs to Gaius and cries and yells no a lot and weeps in the rain while hugging Gaius. Gaius eventually comes to – I guess because of the whole Old Religion life for a life thing and Gaius was revived when Nimueh went poof. And down in the bowels of Camelot, the dragon has another dragon tantrum.
Now, for the questions!
1. If I’d written this episode…I would have had Arthur and Uther not be so dismissive of Gaius’ warning regarding magic and what not. Come the fuck on, people. I’m bad at math, but even I know that snow leopard + giant snake = a really bad magic-y thing.
2. The thing I loved/hated most about this episode. I loved the bit where Merlin was saying his secret goodbyes to Arthur and Gwen – it was actually quite touching. And I also loved Uther weeping over Arthur like an actual fucking parent.
I hated the dismissive-ness shown toward Gaius and also Arthur toward Morgana – it was more like he was embarrassed for/by her than concerned for her. Also the whole Old Religion thing.
3. Something you’ve never noticed about this episode before. The whole guardian angel bit between Uther and Arthur.
4. Favorite Costume. Pretty much everyone is wearing the same old/same old. But I do like Arthur’s linen shirt that he’s wearing when he’s lying in bed. Also, it might be that Arthur is lying in bed…
5. Here is Proof of some random head canon I’ve created. No real canon here – none that I’ve created, anyway.
6. What Merthur moment did Jess have the naughtiest thoughts about? It has to be the sweet, heartfelt and slightly sassy goodbye when Merlin thought he was going to have to sacrifice himself.nBecause, I know in Jess’ head that goodbye ended up in bed.
7. What made Jen lose her shit (in a good or bad way) in this episode – it’s got to be the whole Old Religion thing vs. whatever it is that the writers are avoiding.
Jess’ take on the episode is here
, and Jen’s is here