This post is a follow-up to my previous post on the first episode of the new season 5 of Merlin. The first and second episodes together make up the “Arthur’s Bane” story.
This second episode was far more effective and action-packed than the first. Guinevere proves herself less hard-hearted than we expected, admitting to Gaius that she will not kill Sefa but use her to lure her father to Camelot since he is the real threat. In this strategy, Guinevere is successful. The father manages to free Sefa but is wounded in the process and although they escape from Camelot, he dies immediately after while Sefa flees. I suspect Sefa will show up in a later episode this season.
I did not mention in my last post anything about the strange luminous looking being that cares for Gawain and which many bloggers and commenters have mocked as being an E.T. creature – the creature does look extra-terrestrial, but no real resemblance to E.T. itself. It turns out this creature is the Key to all Knowledge that Morgana seeks. It is the last of its kind and it tells Merlin that he can ask any questions he wants, but after it informs Merlin that knowledge is both a blessing and a curse, he decides it best not to ask any questions, then changes his mind and asks if Mordred is not Arthur’s Bane then who is, for earlier Arthur’s Bane had been prophesied as his downfall. The creature replies that it is Arthur himself.
I love this detail, and it is the kind of detail that Merlin pulls off so successfully, not always giving us what is expected but rising above into metaphor and mystery. Of course, the psychological outdoes the dramatic in the series – Arthur will be his own downfall, just as anyone can choose whether or not to let circumstances or his own flaws defeat him. We will have to wait to see how Arthur is his own bane – will Merlin’s vision of Mordred slaying Arthur turn out to be true, or can it be changed and Arthur’s fall will come about another way – will the series choose to change the tragic ending of the legend or be traditional instead?
The biggest shock in this episode suggests a leaning toward the traditional storyline. Morgana, about to destroy Arthur when she finds him in the caverns beneath Ismere, is stabbed in the back by Mordred in a shocking twist of events. The result is that Merlin is surprised that Mordred saves Arthur – leading to his question of who is really Arthur’s bane – and Arthur has Mordred accompany him back to Camelot where Mordred is rewarded by being made a knight. First, let me point out here that Merlin has saved Arthur plenty of times but no knighthood has ever been installed upon him. Secondly, Mordred is a member of Arthur’s court now, as is typical in the legend (although not Arthur’s son or nephew in this series) and consequently, we can assume that perhaps Mordred will now try to bring about the fall of Camelot from within.
In the final scene, we see Morgana and her dragon making their way through the snow near Ismere. She has apparently survived Mordred’s attack – a strange moment because she clearly seemed to be dead when Mordred stabbed her, and one would think Arthur would have made certain she was dead and seen her body burnt or buried, or have sought to help her if she were still alive (after all, she is his sister). The series’ need to keep Morgana alive is understandable, but no explanation given of how she survived or why her body was not disposed of is a bit of a stretch.
As for the dragon, questions are left open. Merlin earlier tried to stop the dragon from attacking and is surprised when the young dragon cannot speak, finally asking the dragon who has done this to him since the older dragon in the series always speaks. Did Morgana cut out the dragon’s tongue or make him unable to speak, and if so, why would she do so? While she and the dragon are both part of the Old Religion, Morgana leads the dragon on a leash, clearly not respecting him but treating him like a pet for her own purposes. We shall just have to wait to see how these two characters will resurface and whether they will ally themselves with Mordred in a future episode. I’ve learned to expect anything from this series.
Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition. He is currently working on a series of novels about Arthur’s descendants. You can visit Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com