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Merlin “The Disir” 

Photo Credit: Syfy

Even without knowing that this is the last season of Merlin, one can sense that the show is speeding towards its narrative climax.  From the beginning, Merlin has understood that his role in Camelot is to protect and guide Arthur.  To this end, Merlin has faithfully acted as Arthur’s servant.  Despite the fact that Merlin wields an incredible power, he has tolerated humiliation and mockery at the hands of Camelot and its knights.  However, Merlin and Arthur have also grown incredibly close and now their ribbing feels more like what you would expect between siblings.  Merlin feels like he must protect Arthur not just because it’s his duty to Camelot, but because he loves Arthur like a brother.

Merlin senses that Arthur is getting closer and closer to danger.  With Mordred now in the castle, Merlin does not seem to ever be able to let down his guard.  With persistent attacks from Morgana and Arthur’s own self-doubts, Merlin is struggling to keep things together.  He is desperate to know how to save Arthur, but every move he makes seems to have the opposite consequence than what he intends.  Last night’s episode was no different.  Merlin made an incredible personal sacrifice to save Arthur only to discover that he made the wrong choice.

The Disir, a trio of crones, create a magical coin that carries the judgment of the Triple Goddess.  The goddess has found Arthur guilty and only through penitence can he save Camelot from certain destruction.  The Disir gives the coin to the sorcerer Osgar to bring to Arthur.  In his travels, Osgar encounters Arthur’s men and while resisting capture kills one of them.  When Arthur learns of the death, he sets out to find Osgar and bring him to justice.  They mortally wound him, but before he dies, Osgar passes the coin to Arthur and urges him to repent.

Gaius explains to Arthur that the coin is a runemark and reflects the judgment of the gods.  Only after repentance can the gods change one’s fate.  Arthur is profoundly disturbed by the runemark and ruminates on its meaning.  Merlin is troubled, too.  He summons the Great Dragon for advice and is told once again that Mordred must die.  As Merlin told Arthur, “Judgment is wasted on a man who won’t listen.”  We know that Arthur is judged harshly for not allowing the old religion to return, but what about Merlin?  Has he also been judged?

Photo Credit: Syfy

Arthur decides that he must talk to the Disir.  When they arrive at the cave, Arthur arrogantly ignores Merlin’s warning that weapons are not allowed in sacred places.  The knights barrel through the cave, knocking down and stepping on religious relics with no compunction.  Arthur confronts the crones, who tell him his error is denying the old religion.  Tempers flare and the crones send spears towards Arthur and his men.  Mordred jumps in front of one, saving Arthur’s life.  Merlin tosses a spear aside with his magic and one of the crones look up at him.  But neither say anything.  This felt like a missed opportunity for Merlin to gain more information about the goddess’ wrath toward Arthur.

Merlin is again faced with the contradiction of Mordred’s actions and Merlin’s vision of Mordred’s future.  This is the second time Mordred has saved Arthur’s life.  Even now, when Arthur is still refusing to allow the old religion, Mordred’s support has not wavered.  With Mordred severely wounded, Merlin claims that he is unable to help him and they need to bring him to Gaius.  When they return to Camelot, Gaius explains that only the Disir can counter the magic poison from the spear.  This is only partly true.  Merlin’s magic can save Mordred, but he chooses not to use it.  Merlin is so tormented by the possibility that Mordred will kill Arthur, that he would rather let Mordred die than help him.

 

Arthur returns to beg the Disir’s assistance in saving Mordred.  The Disir gives Arthur a choice – bring back the old religion or Camelot will fall.  Arthur is torn.  He worries magic will destroy the kingdom, but also seems open to the idea of other religions.  In a heartbreaking moment, Merlin tells Arthur that magic should not be allowed to come back.  Merlin believes that in doing so, the Disir will then refuse to cure Mordred and Arthur will be safe.  However, by urging Arthur to reject magic, Merlin is also ensuring that he will never be able to live out in the open.  Merlin will always have to hide his magic from Arthur and everyone else.  He will never be able to step out of the shadows where he is looked upon as a simple servant.  Merlin makes this sacrifice for Arthur and for Camelot.

What poor Merlin does not realize is that in rejecting the old religion, Arthur does seal his fate.  When they return to Camelot, Mordred has fully healed.  By curing Mordred, the Disir have brought back the one person who poses the biggest threat to Arthur.  Thus, Merlin has made an enormous sacrifice for nothing.

This episode had many great elements that typified why this show is so enjoyable.  The scene where Merlin tells Arthur, “There can be no place for magic in Camelot” was incredibly moving.  The tears in Merlin’s eyes spoke to the depths of his sacrifice.  Also, the cinematography of this episode was stunning.  Camelot was bright and white, the cave was rich in dark blues and grays, and the lushness of the forest was beautiful.  There is nothing quite like this on television right now, and I am not looking forward to its end.

The final season of Merlin airs on Syfy Fridays at 10/9c.

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