Thursday, 8 December 2011

Merlin, Episode 10 - Herald of a New Age

Howard Overman, you're a good writer. I know you are. Misfits may struggle to find tonally consistency, but it's sharp and original and fun with flashes genuinely brilliant characterisation. Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency (all one episode of it) was one of the best things I have seen on television in a while, on a par with the Dr Who Christmas Special even.

Yet when I went back and watched Howard Overman's first episode of series 4 of Merlin - The Wicked Day - I found something that was too fast paced and crammed with awkward dialogue. Less than stellar acting did not help. So approaching this, Overman's second episode, I felt that my expectations were that this would be an improvement. Certainly, the trailer promised a creepy concept that looked like a welcome break from the norm.

Five minutes in, and I've given up. The banter between Arthur's harem of knights is stilted and awkward enough that I can only imagine the writer was contriving to bad writing. Like The Wicked Day, Herald of a New Age seems to be going too fast, delivering perfunctory and economical dialogue without an ounce of weight to it. Anything that we need to know is telegraphed to us, and the performances do not help.

The director does know how to direct horror, it seems, and build tension. This story certainly seems like it has   a touch of Ring inspiration somewhere in there, as the choice of a pale, corpse-like child who is constantly dripping evokes deja vu rather too potently to be coincidence. Either way, the choice is a good one, as the child's presence is genuinely eerie, and some really good atmosphere is built up.

It seems to me, however, that the better the story in Merlin, the worse the episode. Merlin does silly campy fun, and when it tries to tells really good stories, it's shortcomings get in the way. These characters, written as they are and acted as they are, can hold up lightly entertaining nonsense, but when something of more depth or more interesting plotting is attempted it serves only to draw attention to insufficiencies of the series.

The attempts to deal with the emotional impact of last episode's events are rather badly misjudged. They seem to just be thrown out in a cursory manner, used as devices to justify certain plot elements rather than actual deal with the emotional ramifications of recent events. When the episode then goes on to deal with and resolve totally separate character issues, it makes the whole thing feel very muddled.

This was a fun episode at times, and genuinely creepy, but ultimately a failure. Merlin is a place of mindless fun, not of sophistication, and so I come to the baffling conclusion that this story would have been better were it worse.

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