The double testing and torment of Merlin and Morgana. Colin and Katie do a superb job in this episode. I haven't seen Colin do so much since "Le Morte D'Arthur". The tension steadily grows until he has to make the agonising choice between Arthur and Morgana and it IS agony for him to make it, you believe that. Merlin doesn't want to kill anyone, but the Dragon warned him a long time ago that it would be better if Morgana never knew how powerful she was and his warning comes home to roost in this episode, when Morgause uses that still latent power to enchant everyone in Camelot. From the moment the Dragon tells him that Morgana must die, Merlin is wrestling with the decision. His body is also deteriorating rapidly from the spell, meaning that he cannot even disguise the accusation in his gaze when he looks at her. Her lack of surprise when Arthur says Morgause has arrived is the first clue that she might have a hand in this, but it's when the knight doesn't kill her that he twigs what's going on and knows that she's in league with Morgause. Even so, it's horrible for him to hear her say that he's a good friend and to offer her the water 'before' he drinks the rest of it. Then he has to hold her while she dies in his arms, almost as a punishment for himself. After that, he has to confront Morgause and make her do what he wants (interesing that Morgause doesn't sense his magic). This is a great moment for Merlin, though: he is relatively calm and completely subdues Morgause, who realises that victory may have too high a price. He then has to deal with the fact he murdered a friend. Even though the murder saved many people, it weighs heavy on his conscience, as it should. Merlin is not Nimueh or Morgause. And then he fulfills his promise to the Dragon, with yet more tragic consequences (I still can't believe he only asked the Dragon to promise he wouldn't harm Camelot just before he freed him, surely that can't have been the first time he thought about what would happen afterwards... right?). I'm sure we all know that the only course the Dragon has left is to completely destroy his prison and the man who imprisoned him.
The episode is also agonising for Morgana. It's one thing to sneak out in the night (wearing a dark cloak, finally!) and talk treason with your sister in the moonlight, dreaming of a world where Uther doesn't exist. It's quite another to see your maid, one of the best friends you ever had, fall into a coma. And then all the servants, and the guards, and the doctor who always took care of you. Morgana isn't prepared for the casualties of war at all. She begins to have an inkling that this will not be easy. And then she sees Merlin and Arthur, the two boys she cares most for, are also under attack and beginning to fall sick. And all the while, Merlin's looking at her with those accusing eyes saying 'I know you did something, I know you're the cause of this, why won't you admit that you know what's going on and help me?' Arthur and Merlin joking together and being gallant made it all the more difficult for her to face that they were going to die. But I think the saddest thing of all is that she doesn't completely realise her part in the whole thing so Merlin poisoning her is a terrible shock and she doesn't know why he's done it.
There were some funny moments: Merlin finally slapping Arthur has been a long time coming and Arthur splashing his face with water (a nice echo of Episode 4) in order to keep himself awake. The wry little joke made about the groaning of the Knights being Merlin's knees knocking together. Oh, ASH and RW must have loved this episode. Richard Wilson doing that fixed smile thing was creepy and funny at the same time. ASH having his face pushed around by Bradley, then flopping forward onto the dinner table? I laughed, I admit it. The way his head just fell back onto the pillows with gaping mouth? And then the little smirk when they're dragging him around? He was loving it!
More than The Witch's Quickening, this episode really draws the battlelines that will shape the future. I think I'll leave the final words to Arthur and Merlin:
"If I need a servant in the next life." "Don't ask me!"