Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Review: Camelot "Three Journeys"

Non Spoiler Review:
This week on CSI:'s Morgan's turn to hold a trial at Pendragon Castle, when the tables are turned and she's forced to pass judgement on someone close to her to keep the faith of the people. Merlin decides it's time to get down to Ector's old place and get that library he's been talking about, while a family crisis prompts Guinevere to run off by herself, with you-know-who in pursuit.

On the plus side, the episode's scope is back to a grander sense of the kingdom, with the knights marking off the boundaries of Camelot's protection. The problem arises in three storylines going off in different directions. Arthur and Guinevere's travels fall flat in comparison to Morgan's more compelling challenge this week, while Merlin's journey deals again with his struggle with the magic, and ultimately feels mediocre.

It's not entirely bad—Arthur and Guinevere seem to have matured in their interactions with one another, and some more intriguing bits of mystery are added to Sybil and Morgan's relationship. It just felt bland.

Spoilers Now!
The knights are busy expanding Camelot's area of protection by planting the Pendragon standard throughout their territory. Merlin takes Kay from his task to return to his father's home and retrieve Ector's valuable library, but Kay's reluctant to revisit those memories. Guinevere gets news from a messenger that sends her off on her own away from Camelot. Arthur is informed by Bridget about her disappearance and they learn her father is on his deathbed, and she may not even reach him in time. So Arthur heads off to find her through the lawless reaches of his kingdom—lucky for him Merlin was already gone 'cuz he would have been mad!

Many envoys are arriving at Pendragon castle to get the ear of the king's sister. She hears a couple's dispute first—the mother doesn't want the father to take the son given he had an affair with another woman and he only needs help with the farm work. They ask her to arbitrate, so she offers to buy the child from them. The mother is outraged, but the father keeps bargaining with her for a good price. Morgan declares the child stays with his mother, while the man is unworthy to be called a father and puts him out. Morgan tells the boy to treasure his mother.

On the trail, Merlin, Leontes, Kay and Gawain arrive at the site of an attack, finding a dying man. Kay asks Merlin to help him, but Merlin assures him he has no powers that can save him. Gawain steps up and sits with him while he dies.

That night Merlin gets 20 questions from the knights about why he didn't help. Gawain wants to know why Merlin couldn't save him. Kay wants to know where the magic comes from. Merlin explains it as thought made manifest—there are forces in the elements that he can shape to his will to some small degree. He warns them all that using too much power would kill him—with a cost to his body and soul and to those around him. It's an addiction, which he denies himself. Christian Leontes believes it's God working through him, but Merlin doesn't believe in god and gently mocks him. Leontes doesn't appreciate his disrespect.

Arthur catches up with Guinevere at Generic Village. Her father has been living with his sister since the wedding, she explains. One of the women there warns that there was another attack in the forest through which she's travelling. People thought it would be different with a new king, but nothing has changed. Arthur says he'll accompany her. Outside of Camelot hardly anyone knows who he is, and he suggests they take the coast rather than the forest. Guinevere's suspicious of his motivations, but he assures her it's a favor to Leontes. The past is done.

En route, Arthur mulls over his problems in trying to extend the influence of his kingdom. Guinevere tells him he understands the people and cares for them, and he'll ultimately succeed. They later camp for the night on the coast, but wake up in the morning to find thieves going through their stuff. They fight them off, and Arthur kills one—Yes, the land is in anarchy! Morgan is looking like a good bet at the moment.

Finally they reach her father, and Guinevere manages to spend some time with him before he dies. Arthur consoles her and her family with some sage words of Cicero, and soon they're back on their way. This time Guinevere wants to be held as they lie on the beach together and stare up at the stars, and by the next day they're more comfortable around one another again.

Meanwhile, a veiled woman named Arwen demands to see Morgan. Sybil is impressed with Morgan's progress and now suggests she not shy away from her new powers—what she now calls a gift. Vivian interrupts and announces the guest, who says she's in terrible danger. Sybil seems pensive.

Arwen asks to speak in private, but Sybil orders her to take off her veil. The king's sister harbors a devil, she announces, and removes her veil to reveal a faced burned on one side. She explains her daughter was in the nunnery across the sea, and she arrived to find it in flames—a fire lit by Sybil. Though she managed to survive she saw Sybil hiding as her daughter died. Now she wants retribution and insists Morgan sit in judgement.

Morgan is furious with the spectacle that she's harboring a murderer, but realizes she has no choice but to have a public hearing. Sybil wants to see her but Morgan refuses, waiting for the trial to uncover the truth. Sybil sits alone, remembering the fire and praying.

Ector's old home is ransacked and the books apparently gone. Kay is morose at the prospect his father's legacy is destroyed. That night as the others sleep, Gawain asks Merlin why he insists on forbidding himself his magic. Gawain and his knights use their rage as a way to channel their fighting skills without letting it control them—why can't Merlin do the same?

In the morning Kay has a dream and remembers that as a child he and Arthur played in a cellar in the woods. He goes out and finds the secret stash of books. Everyone is elated at their discovery and the knights head back to Camelot in a good mood.

On the way Leontes is bucked from his horse and dislocates his shoulder. Gawain wants to pop it back in, but Leontes is in pain. Merlin points to a tree and a rain of leaves suddenly begin to fall in tiny flames to the ground. Distracted, Gawain pops Leontes shoulder back in. Gawain is impressed and congratulates the sorcerer for exercising control over his power, while Leontes is grateful and tells him he's an angel doing God's work.

At the trial, Sybil confesses to starting the fire. She explains there are forces in the world that must be satisfied if they are to be kept at bay. A select group of girls were chosen each year to participate in a ritual, but priests arrived looking for evidence of the ceremony, and so Sybil burned it. The fire got out of control and she was forced to jump from a window, watching the nunnery get consumed. She remains haunted by it.

Arwen wants an execution, but Morgan has other ideas. After considering her options, she drags Sybil over to the fire and orders her to put her arm in it. Sybil sees that Morgan is very serious, so finally obeys and collapses to the floor in pain with her arm burned in the fire. That will be her punishment, to carry the pain that the mother must bear. That's not good enough for Arwen, who still wants Sybil executed. Morgan will hear nothing else about it, declares her decision final, and sends them away.

Guinevere and Arthur arrive in sight of Camelot and share a spontaneous kiss, then ride home in silence. Morgan later quietly tends to Sybil's burns while the nun weakly tells her thank you. Arthur and his knights are reunited as Merlin sets up the new library. Leontes thanks the king for taking care of his wife. Arthur decides their work isn't done yet, and sends his men out to the east to continue planting their banners to show everyone they're watching out for them (good idea!). That night, Arthur and Guinevere both stare up at the sky.

The Verdict:
Another hit and miss episode that seems to revisit several themes again. Right off the heels of last week we get another trial. Granted it contrasts Morgan and Arthur's leadership styles, but some better pacing would be welcome.

Morgan's storyline was again the strongest, adding new secrets with the talk of rituals at the nunnery and ancient forces needing to be appeased. I imagine they're saving these tidbits for the end of the season, but I'm finding events at Pendragon Castle to be extremely more interesting than Camelot.

Which brings us to Sybil's motivations. Who exactly is she serving, and just what kind of nun is she? She arrived furious with Morgan for trying to use magic, but this week is all about encouraging her to use her abilities, so she's got quite a loosey-goosey interpretation of her Christianity. And now it appears Morgan likely owes her special gifts to Sybil and her ancient rituals.

I did love Morgan's tough love approach—punishing Sybil as much for lying about why she was there as for causing her to lose face in front of her subjects. Their relationship is quite interesting as Sybil fills more of the surrogate mother role. At times she does illicit sympathy, but I'm still not sure she has Morgan's best interests at heart.

Arthur and Guinevere have matured quite a bit, but their whole journey came off as pretty empty, serving only to throw them together yet again. I'm just not feeling this great love story from these two characters. There was a lot of filler there—swimming in the ocean, fighting thieves, staring at stars. Did it really need to take up so much of the episode?

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