Saturday 3 March 2012

TV Review: Merlin – “Lancelot du Lac”

“Arthur is to make Guinevere his queen”.  These are the words that Morgana fears more than anything on this earth; her greatest dread is that her vision will come true and Guinevere will sit on the throne that Morgana covets for herself.  To what depths will the evil witch descend to prevent King Arthur from making young Guinevere his queen?

Warning: spoilers throughout

BBC Merlin - Lancelot du Lac (season 4, episode 9)

Well, it appears there are actually no limits to her depravity as Morgana visits the Dochraid, seeking her counsel on how to wield Morgause’s magical coin to raise a soul from the dead.  There is so much emphasis put on the destiny of King Arthur and Merlin but it seems that we underestimate the role that Morgana herself will play.

The Dochraid: “Morgana Pendragon, you are destined to bring back the old ways.  I hope to live to see that day”.

Morgana will indeed bring magic back to Camelot, but at what cost?  Morgana travels to the pool of Nemhain and tosses the coin into the black, still waters of the lake.  She revives Sir Lancelot who so valiantly sacrificed his life in “The Darkest Hour, part 2”.  Is it really the brave and honourable knight, or just a Shade, a mere shadow of his body and soul?  We will soon learn that he is the latter.

Santiago Cabrera hi res stills

Meanwhile, back at the castle, Arthur surprises Gwen by playfully blindfolding her and leading her into her home which is alight with candles.  He kneels before her and we finally hear the words we have been waiting four years for:

Arthur: “Guinevere, will you do me the honour of becoming my wife?”

It is possibly my favourite Merlin scene of all time.  Gwen throws herself into Arthur’s arms, weeping tears of joy while an obviously confused Arthur has to ask whether that is a yes.  Of course it is!

BBC Merlin - Lancelot du Lac (season 4, episode 9)

But trouble is on the way and it will always be on the way for as long as Morgana pursues her bitter, evil path.  For Morgana has brought back Lancelot not to harm King Arthur but to win back Gwen’s heart.  Sir Lancelot makes a dramatic re-entrance in Camelot during the celebratory jousting tournament marking the upcoming royal nuptials.

At first he is welcomed back to the fold with open arms; King Arthur and the knights of Camelot are thrilled to have him back and believe his tale of being rescued by the Mudhabi people.  Merlin is the first to realise that Lancelot is not all he says he is though.  Lancelot was once Merlin’s biggest ally, he knew of Merlin’s magic from the start and never betrayed his secret.  But Lancelot does not recognise nor remember Merlin’s abilities.

Merlin: “I've spent so long thinking about what happened, could I have saved you? And if there was anything I could have done, if I could have used magic...”

Sir Lancelot: “If any of us had any magic, Merlin, life would be a lot easier”.

Of course, Guinevere is far too graceful and noble to simply fall into Lancelot’s arms once she has pledged her love for Arthur.  She is certainly glad to see Lancelot return but she would never betray her true love.  But she is no match for Morgana who enchants a bracelet to reawaken Gwen’s feelings for Lancelot and compel her to fall in love with him.  This was never going to end well.

Warning: Spoilers ahead. Do not read if you have not watched the end of “Lancelot du Lac”

There is a lot to love about this episode, especially when Arthur finally proposes to Guinevere.  It was also great to finally see the return of Santiago Cabrera in his role as Sir Lancelot. 

As uplifting as it was in parts, this was ultimately a tragic episode with some incredibly strong performances from Colin Morgan and Angel Coulby.  The scenes where they are dismantling the preparations for the wedding that never happened were really powerful, with Arthur heartbroken and Merlin imploring him to forgive Gwen.

I was on the verge of tears when a confused and blindsided Gwen declared her love for Arthur before he cast her out.

Guinevere: “You mean everything to me Arthur.  Once there was Lancelot, a long time ago but I haven't considered him in that way for many years.  I thought he was dead, I thought I would never see him again and... and then... when I did, I was overwhelmed.  I was drawn to him, I couldn't stop myself, I don't know why.  I love you, you mean everything to me.”

It is especially poignant when Merlin releases Lancelot from Morgana’s spell, thus freeing his soul and Lancelot awakes just long enough to truly recognise Merlin and thank him before his true death. 

It is interesting to note that the cast and crew of Merlin considered “Lancelot du Lac” to be one of the finest episodes ever recorded but from a fan’s point of view, it is not that simple.  I found it heart breaking that Guinevere was prevented, once again, from becoming queen and that it was not that something simply came between her and Arthur.  No, once again, Arthur lost his faith in Gwen and was convinced of her guilt. 

I hated that she was cast out of Camelot and that she left in rags.  I’ve mentioned before that I really don't like it when really crappy things happen to my favourite characters in my favourite shows.  It makes me think that if Gwen hadn’t been a mere servant (and a metaphor for all the classism and racism in English society), then Arthur would never have stooped so low as to cast her out in such a manner and the writers wouldn’t have felt so easy about writing it that way either.  Why did it have to be Gwen who paid the price?

But on the other hand, Guinevere really was complicit in Arthurian legend when she embarked on an affair with Lancelot du Lac but Merlin is a children’s programme and we were never really going to go there.  I just wish that Gwen’s character was not constantly under attack. 

As much as I love BBC Merlin, I really wish we’d seen more of Sir Lancelot and Santiago Cabrera in the series.  In Arthurian legend, Lancelot was the most skilled, most popular of all the knights and his name is as well known as those of King Arthur and Merlin.  He also outlives both King Arthur and Guinevere in the legends.  So why did he have such a small part in this series and more importantly, why did the gorgeous Santiago Cabrera not grace our screens for far more time than he was allowed?

There is little we can do about Santiago Cabrera and Sir Lancelot du Lac, as I really do believe he has gone now, but I do hope to see Guinevere catch a break in the next couple of episodes.  She deserves so much more than to be cast out in rags.

All images © 2011 BBC

High resolution stills for Merlin – “Lancelot du Lac”

Adetomiwa Edun is Sir Elyan, Rupert Young is Sir Leon, Tom Hopper is Sir Percival, Santiago Cabrera is Sir Lancelot and Eoin Macken is Sir Gwaine,

BBC Merlin - Lancelot du Lac (season 4, episode 9) Tom Hopper hi res stills photos BBC Merlin - Lancelot du Lac (season 4, episode 9) BBC Merlin - Lancelot du Lac (season 4, episode 9)

BBC Merlin - Lancelot du Lac (season 4, episode 9)   BBC Merlin - Lancelot du Lac (season 4, episode 9)

Colin Morgan hi-res photos stills   BBC Merlin - Lancelot du Lac (season 4, episode 9)



  1. I entirely agree with you regarding Lancelot/Santiago being greatly underused. I suspect that the fact he was introduced so early (near the beginning of Season 1, when TPTB didn't really now how many seasons they would have over which to tell the story) and their decision to make Arthur and Gwen a "Prince Charming/girl-next door find true Love" pairing rather than a couple in an arranged marriage meant that they really couldn't keep him around as a permanent or semi-permanent member of the cast, he had to appear just at strategic moments in the story to have any sort of impact on the overall story arc.

    However, Merlin's writers have repeatedly said that "no-one really dies" on the show, and I certainly haven't heard anyone make an announcement to the effect that Lancelot definitely WON'T be back at some stage. The fact that Santiago seems to have a smaller than previously thought role in Alcatraz would seem to suggest that such a return to Merlin would be perfectly possible from an actor availability point of view.

    UK based viewer

    1. Hi there. Thank you so much for your comment! I did not know Cabrera is in Alcatraz but now that I do know, I want to see it! I know what you mean about the timing though. Considering how sharply Robin Hood declined, the writers could never have known in their wildest dreams that they would have five (or more) seasons to tell the entire story.

      I guess you have seen to the end by now so thank you for not spoiling it! I am also a UK based viewer but was on holiday over the final two episodes and missed them. Then I made the decision to watch the entire season again with my US friends. Isn't Sky+ a wonderful thing?

      One question: what is TPTB?

  2. How can the writers say no one really dies on the show? Lots of people have died and I'm not even a regular viewer. Merlin's Dad is dead, I can't see them bringing him back unless everyone is eventually coming back from the dead - which is REALLY creepy if this is a show meant for kids. My favourite person on the show is dead. I can't remember her name now. She was a villan early on. A witch or goddess with old magic. Anyway, you would know her, I think she was also on Doctor Who.

    I don't watch Merlin every week. I've never quite gotten into a show with a black Guenievere. I think that's why she had to be from the servant class. There just wouldn't have been a black or mixed race woman with dark skin in that position. They were all European. It would have been very rare for someone to be dark skinned. It's really weird that they picked that actress for the role. She's doing a good job, she really just doesn't look the part.

    1. The Doctor Who clue doesn't really help since the acting pool is quite small in the UK and everyone eventually gets a part in most of the major shows, especially if they are both BBC shows. Merlin has traditionally featured a well-known British guest star in each episode.

      Anyway, I think the BBC says that about every show - they don't want kids getting all upset when someone has died.

      There is evidence that there were a great number of black people in the UK in all levels of society since Roman times. Throughout history, traders and noble people made their way through to the island, as did people from north Africa and the Middle East first during the Roman campaigns and then as a result of the Crusades. I have never read any complaints in the UK about Guinevere being black but then I really don't think there are enough black and Asian actors on our screens in the UK to begin with. Whatever your take on history is, the UK is a multi-cultural society and it is important to express that to children.

  3. PS- Aa far as Gwen being thrown out and left homeless, in rags. etc. She probably had no where to go and didn't have much to take with her. I didn't see that episode but in the preview for the next one she wasn't wearing rags, or they didn't look ragged to me. Another woman from another noble house would have been sent home. It just happens that for Gwen there was no other option. So if she was thrown out/ banned she was left on her own. It wasn't especially cruel, it would have just been the way it was.

    I saw the episode last night where her brother shows up and is haunted by the ghost of a drowned boy. I know her Father was killed by Uther. Since then she lived alone - which was also very weird and not how things would have been - now a brother comes out from nowhere.

    Plus, the whole deal with Morgana is silly beyond words. Women were not given the crown, it went to any other male heir before it ever went to a woman. She isn't supposed to know she is Uther's daughter (as far as I know) so she wouldn't have any expectation of ruling anything. She was the King's ward, there to be married off.

    The Merlin series annoys me. If they wanted to make it all fantasy they should have stuck with that. I did like the dragon but that seems to be gone now. A story about the dragons would be more interesting than more about Arthur, Gwen and Morgana. I do like the scenes with Arthur and Merlin, their rough-housing and joking. Not likely Arthur would have been friends with a servant but it is fun to watch anyway.

    1. Sir Elyan has always been Gwen's brother. He doesn't live with her because he is one of the knights of Camelot and he lives in the barracks.

  4. Hi Emm..I always enjoy sitting with a cup of tea reading your awesome posts and catching up on any I have are a wodnerful writer and i love everything you share..! Yay..thanks..and thanks for always adding sparkles to my day!
    Wishing you a fabulous day and shining week ahead!


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