‘Merlin: The Darkest Hour’ (Part One) – Recap

Posted Saturday, January 7th, 2012 06:30 pm GMT -5 by

The season four premiere is a prime case of all the things ‘Merlin’ does right, immediately from the first scene to the final cliffhanger moment. One of the best parts about ‘Merlin’ is the sheer expansive nature of the show. This is unadulterated epic fantasy as it exists at both its smallest character-driven level and its largest story-driven example, and the result is a fantastic show that’s easy to get lost in. I got wrapped well into the story yet again, and I can guarantee fans are going to find lots to enjoy.

[Spoilers Ahead]

The story opens with a hooded figure dragging a cart along a rocky road. Four knights of Camelot stop the person, and demand to know his or her destination. Turns out our mystery person is headed to the Sea of Meredor, which you may recall is where the Isle of the Blessed is. And, oh yeah, that mystery figure? It’s Morgana. Our favorite evil witch knocks the knights for a loop, and then uncovers the figure in the cart to speak with them. Oh my … looks like Morgause is in quite a state. Something tells me she’s not long for this world.

Back at Camelot, Merlin rushes through a mess of people on his way to get Arthur’s shirt from the kitchen. I suppose this is how you steam a shirt in Camelot? Either way, looks like the castle is preparing for a party to celebrate Samhain, which they pronounce “Sow-en.”

On his way out of the kitchen, Merlin literally runs into Lancelot and ends up having to use his magic to get a fairly substantial stain out of Arthur’s shirt. Finally at the Prince’s quarters, Merlin is shocked to find his master already dressed. Arthur claims he’s not an idiot, but then he turns around and we see part of his back exposed. Sure, he’s not a moron, but apparently he can’t make sure his shirt is completely straight either while he works on a speech. Merlin then holds up an already completed speech, which Arthur reads and claims needs some polish. Personally I just think Arthur doesn’t want to compliment Merlin, but that’s pretty much par for the course.

There’s a heartbreaking scene with a broken Uther sitting at a window. Gwen’s his caretaker now, seeing as it’s been a year since Morgana’s betrayal and the king still hasn’t gotten over it. He’s a shadow of his former self, sadly, and Gaius comments how kind it is that Gwen looks after him. She’s not doing it for him, naturally, but rather because she’s madly in love with Arthur. Yeah ’cause that’s a surprise.

Morgana about to kill Morgause

Morgana about to kill Morgause

Meanwhile, Morgana and Morgause reach the Isle of the Blessed and head toward an ancient altar in the center of a great hall. Morgana hesitates, which makes me think something terrible’s about to happen, and it’s only through Morgause’s influence that she soldiers on. And then Morgause talks about Morgana killing her … yep, I was right on the money. Morgana doesn’t want to do it, but Morgause says she’s not long for the world anyway. She wants her death to strike a blow against their enemies, and not be in vain. So Morgana raises a sacrificial knife, casts a spell, and jams it into her sister’s heart.

KA-BOOM!

Morgana’s knocked backwards, and the force of the magic is so great that Merlin feels it all the way in Camelot. Time slows for Merlin, and an old woman in a black hooded cloak carrying a staff appears in the middle of the feast. This same old woman appears to Morgana on the Isle of the Blessed, where now a massive tear in the world floats above Morgause’s corpse.

The old woman is the Cailleach, the guardian of the dead. The tear Morgana created is a doorway between the world of the living and the world of the dead. Now the spirits of the dead have been let loose to terrorize the kingdom. The ghosts remind me a bit of the Harry Potter dementors, but much less corporeal than those creatures. Apparently they kill by sucking the life from people and leaving them frostbitten.

Anywho, while the Cailleach apparition in Camelot makes Merlin faint after calling him Emrys, the Cailleach apparition on the Isle informs Morgana precisely what she’s done and tells her that “Emrys will walk in your shadow. He is both your destiny, and your doom.” Ooo … foreshadowing much?

The next day, after Merlin and Gaius have a heart-to-heart about the Cailleach and what it can mean, we find out an entire village has been destroyed by the spirits of the dead. The sole survivor tells Arthur her story while the knights and Arthur’s uncle Agravaine look on.

Arthur and Merlin travel to the village, accompanied by Leon, Lancelot, Percival, Elyan, and Gwaine. Upon their arrival, they find the townspeople dead and covered in ice like they’d been frostbitten. Merlin tries to fight one of the creatures with magic, but that doesn’t work for some reason. Lancelot has to save our scrawny wizard by waving a torch in the creature’s face.

They flee the village, and back in Camelot the alarm bells are going nuts. Spirits of the dead flood the city and attack everyone. A knight dies in front of Gwen after a spirit rushes through him. She scares the thing away by waving a torch in its face. Fire is sadly their best weapon right now, and that only scares the dead things away.

Arthur, Merlin, and the rest finally come back to Camelot. While Merlin explains his lack of power against the creatures to Gaius, the other knights go out on patrol sans Arthur. Percival, in his sleeveless chainmail, finds three kids hiding behind a barrel. He looks at his torch, looks at the kids, and looks at the torch again. In the next scene, Percival has all three kids in his arms and is booking it down the street. One of the spirits rushes toward him, and it looks like it’s going to get him, but then Elyan jumps in front and banishes the creature. Hooray for teamwork!

In a meeting the next morning with Agravaine and Arthur, Gaius explains precisely what’s attacking them and why. Apparently the priestesses of the Old Religion used to do this all the time on Samhain Eve. Maybe it was their version of a Halloween prank?

Regardless of the reason, Gaius tells our heroes (I love that phrase) that only a human sacrifice can both open and close the tear between worlds. Morgause was sacrificed to open the tear, and someone must die to close the tear. Arthur immediately decides he’s going to sacrifice himself for the sake of the kingdom. Agravaine tries to talk him out of it, while Merlin and Gaius just look stunned. Arthur is resolved to do something, especially since refugees flood Camelot by the day.

In the next scene, Agravaine arrives at Morgana’s hut in the forest. He explains that Arthur is planning to sacrifice himself to save Camelot. There’s some derisive smirking because they believe Arthur a rube, but Morgana’s face falls and Agravaine expresses some concern. Morgana reveals then her knowledge of Emrys. She doesn’t know who he is, just that he’s both her destiny and her doom. Hmm … one wonders.

Back in Camelot, Arthur sits with his father and explains he has to leave in order to save the kingdom. Uther’s sole line in this episode is a simple “Don’t leave me,” but the sheer emotional weight behind it is enormous. Gwen as well tries to convince Arthur not to go, but we all know that’s a fallacy. Before they depart Camelot, Arthur hands the royal seal to Agravaine and says his uncle is the only one he trusts to rule Camelot in his absence. Umm, not sure you should place your trust in him, Arthur. And Agravaine seems not to be either, because he hands the seal back to Arthur. Well color me confused.

Merlin says his goodbyes to Gaius, and declares he’d gladly die to keep Arthur and Albion safe. Outside, Gwen extracts a promise from Lancelot that he’ll look after Arthur. Except Lancelot was I’m sure expecting a kiss goodbye. Darn that courtly love.

The team heads out on their quest to the Isle of the Blessed. In the forest, Lancelot tries to convince Merlin to run away. Our favorite wizard is of course having none of it, since his duty is to protect Arthur the same way Lancelot’s duty is to protect Camelot.

Off in her hut, Morgana  has a terrifying dream of a field of bodies. I wonder if this is Baden Hill, where Arthur and Morgana both perish. Regardless of where it is, an old man Morgana calls Emrys stands over her and as she asks for help asks “Is this what you wanted, Morgana?” I guess not, because she wakes up panting.

Merlin, Arthur, and the knights at the castle

Merlin, Arthur, and the knights at the castle

Merlin, Arthur, and the knights reach an ancient castle where they hole up for the night. The spirits of the dead attack, and though they’re kept at bay by torches and a bonfire, it’s not enough to last the night. Arthur and Merlin split off from the main group to search for firewood. While Merlin collects a bunch of twigs, the creatures attack and Arthur shoves him out of the way. They run and hide behind a wooden door. Oh yes, all ghosts from beyond the grave are terrified of wood. Good job.

Lancelot and the other knights go on a search and rescue when Arthur and Merlin are late coming back. With one torch between them, they fight off a bunch of spirits before finally coming to the hiding place. However they’re too late to stop Merlin from leaping into a spirit’s path to prevent it from hitting Arthur. And that’s the cliffhanger. A Merlin popsicle lying in the back of this room.

All in all, this season premiere did pretty darn well. The character development was good, and I was happy to see the ensemble cast used to its utmost in the course of the story. I’ll definitely be tuning in next week to see how Merlin gets saved. Since we all know he does, considering the teaser for next week showed him walking around and all better.

You can read our ‘Merlin: Seasons 1-3′ review to catch up.