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Oct. 12th, 2010

Finally went to see the doctor yesterday because the cough and sore throat wouldn't get better, and unexpectedly got a whole week of Krankenstand. I'm still torn between feeling incredibly grateful for the gift of a free week, and terribly guilty, because some over-conscientious part of me doesn't really feel justified staying at home for this. Then again, this is the first time in ten years or so that I'm staying at home because I'm sick, and if I'm honest with myself, my body needs it. Talking the whole day isn't especially helpful.

The downside of course is that this also means I have to stay indoors despite the beautiful sunny weather and skip Tai Chi class as well as this week's Russian lesson, and the cough medicine I got prescribed is the kind they advise you not to take when driving, or when you've had an addiction problem, so there probably won't be any bursts of sparkling wit and profound insight forthcoming, even when I suddenly have a lot of time on my hands. I can practically feel my brain cells working only at half-speed.

Merlin 3.05 The Crystal Cave

For me the most interesting—and in some ways actually surprising— part of the episode were the first 13 minutes and Arthur and Merlin's relationship. The rest felt a bit too... repetitive, I guess, like so much on that show lately. Same plot, slightly different approach. And speaking of which, there had better be a strong Arthur/Gwen angle and some actual relationship development in the next episode, because we've seen a version of this marriage plot how many times already? Then again, Goblin's Gold wasn't too bad either.

Back to the interesting stuff, though. What I thought stood out at the beginning of the episode, so much that I was actually surprised that it wasn't picked up again later, was that Arthur three times in succession asks Merlin to trust him: 'Why is it you never trust me, Merlin?' 'Where are we going?' — 'Trust me.' 'They'll never follow us in here, they wouldn't dare. Trust me.' Now with Merlin's increasingly exasperated reaction this was clearly played mostly for laughs, but considering what Merlin is hiding, and that trust will be a very real issue when it finally comes out, I wonder if this is entirely coincidental and meaningless in the longer run. Mentioned once, maybe, but three times in a row? Arthur clearly wants Merlin to trust him, more than Merlin does trust him, and he realises that Merlin doesn't, even if he isn't aware, or fully aware, of what Merlin is hiding from him. It also raises the question, will Merlin be able to trust him where it really counts?

The frustrating thing is that with this show it's almost impossible to tell how many conclusions one can draw from implications or single lines of dialogue, but when Arthur asks, 'Merlin? Something happened you're not telling me about?' what kind of an answer does he expect? What does he think did happen that Merlin isn't telling him about? If he believes he was hit by an arrow, and if he remembers Merlin telling him that, if he remembers the pain that is probably quite a bit different from only getting bruised, what does he believe happened then? And it's not as if Merlin is even trying to be particularly convincing with the explanation he finally gives, throwing, 'The arrow didn't pierce your armour, and when you fell you knocked yourself out,' at Arthur, in a tone that suggests he can hardly be bothered to uphold this tired and threadbare fiction any longer, but if Arthur insists on asking anyway... In SV Clark would at least have tried to lie more convincingly, and Lex wouldn't have believed him, and would have added another piece to the mental puzzle. Arthur just... accepts this? Lets it slide? Thanks Merlin? For getting them out of the bandits' stronghold, apparently, but when he tells Uther, 'How we escaped I'll never know, although some credit must go to my servant Merlin,' this is awfully (deliberately?) vague, considering that he seemed to be thanking Merlin for something rather more specific earlier.

Is he (again) asking Merlin to trust him and tell him the truth, but can understand why Merlin wouldn't? Is he really convinced by Merlin's explanation, or does he trust Merlin enough to accept it, whether it is the truth or not?

I only sporadically read fan-anything in this fandom any longer, but a while ago I stumbled across this post by jane_elliot, where she talks about why she finds modern Merlin AUs banal and boring because they ignore the complicated balance of power in the relationship between Merlin and Arthur as well as the dark and serious elements of the show itself, and I also vaguely remember someone else's meta that I didn't bookmark and can't find again [hermette, here], where they talk about the power (im)balance between Merlin and Arthur, and how their relationship can never be satisfactory resolved and become equal until Arthur finds out about Merlin's magic.

For me this is also what makes the show interesting in spite of its various weaknesses. For all the superficial lightness, the occasionally ill-timed comic relief and overused reset button, the fanservice, innuendo, and lack of shirts, at the heart of the show and there are two characters learning to control and balance their power and navigate their relationship through this. Arthur of course isn't aware of it, because Merlin hides his power, has to hide it, but it's there nonetheless, and part of the fascination of watching is knowing it's there, even if it's also frustrating how unsatisfactory it is handled half of the time, and how inconsistent the development is. But Merlin is definitely shown to be growing into his power since the end of S2 especially when he found out about his dragon-lord inheritance, and what I loved about this episode was to get this glimpse of a much more grown up, deadly serious, determined Merlin, who momentarily completely forgets that he's supposed to be playing the clumsy servant, and starts giving orders. And Arthur... accepts it with only the faintest of token protests. Which makes sense, because someone like Arthur would respect power. The odd thing is that this temporary change in their relationship is apparently completely unconnected to the rest of the story.

Merlin asks, right at the beginning, why Taliesin is showing him the cave and the visions, and this question is never really answered. Did Taliesin know what Merlin would see, and if yes, why did he let him see it? Why would he want Merlin to save the man who persecuted and murdered his people for twenty years? If he didn't, why bring Merlin into the cave at all? What was Merlin expected to do? Merlin throughout the episode feels he'd been shown this in order to prevent Morgana from killing Uther, but was he? Gaius certainly doesn't see any pressing need to prevent Uther's possible death. Or was it rather about confronting Merlin with the consequences of using his power? The dragon clearly isn't happy with Merlin's behaviour. ('How dare you treat me such? How dare you abuse your power?') Was showing Merlin the vision nothing but a test to make him more aware of the consequences of his actions? Merlin's Labyrinth of Gedref, in a way?

Power isn't that complicated an issue for Arthur who grew up as a prince; who is accustomed to it, and has already proven that he can handle it responsibly when it really matters, episodes of bratty behaviour notwithstanding; who is very aware that it is a burden and a responsibility and not a license to interfere without thinking about the long-term consequences. Granted, it isn't the first time this question has been brought up, but it's become more of an issue for Merlin lately, and this time he was very alone, and had to find his own way through this muddle.

There are a couple of images that sum up Merlin and Arthur's relationship so well because they merge what is and what will be, and show the truth of their relationship that at least Arthur isn't aware of yet; the perfect symmetry of them sitting across the table with the two cups between them at the end of The Labyrinth of Gedref, or this one.

Admittedly this is entirely hypothetic, because I'm not sure I trust the show to really think this through, but I think what frustrates Arthur so much about Merlin is that on the one hand he has... not quite seen, maybe, but felt enough of Merlin's power to know that there is more to Merlin than the clumsy servant persona Merlin usually presents, but not enough for him to figure it out what and how. On some level he feels Merlin is an equal, but looking at it rationally, he only sees a servant who most of the time is incompetent and quite rude; someone he likes instinctively, but isn't sure he, as a prince, should like that much, and isn't sure whether he really can respect him. I think half of the time when Arthur is insulting and belittling Merlin, he's—maybe more on a subconscious than conscious level—pushing for an reaction to find out what Merlin is hiding, who he really is.

... and a couple of minor points:

# Gaius, who was never very eager to step in when he heard of a plot to assassinate Uther. Gaius may pretend that his motive for trying to stop, or at least discourage, Merlin from acting is that it's dangerous to meddle with prophecies and predictions, that sometimes it's best not to know, but this time he is so very blatantly stalling that it's almost as if he's telling Merlin to think about whether he really wants to save Uther, without actually saying it in so many words. At this point, IMO, Gaius is certain that Arthur is ready enough to become king and keep Camelot safe, and if fate is coming for Uther, Gaius certainly isn't going to interfere. After this episode I don't think there can be any doubt about that.

IMO the relationship between Gaius and Uther, despite the fact that we're getting only occasional glimpses of it, is one of the most fascinating ones on the show. Gaius is clearly absolutely disgusted with Uther's hypocrisy of murdering people for practicing magic, but using it when it benefits him personally, and the scene between Gaius and Uther ('Of course. I understand. I won't ask any questions.') speaks volumes about the fucked-up situation.

# I'm so unhappy with Morgana's arc that I'm not really invested in it, and the revelation that Uther is her father wasn't that much of a surprise, but there's a bitter irony in the fact that he's willing to have Gaius use magic to save her after he turned her against him through his hatred of magic. I wonder if she also overheard that part. And the next tragedy is that, maybe, if he'd told her that he is her father, it'd have changed everything. The very last chance, gone, without Uther ever even knowing.

Also, leaving aside the extreme unlikeliness that there was never any gossip about Uther, Vivian and Morgana's parentage, why the secrecy? Uther claims that the people must never know, 'for Arthur's sake'. Morgana seems to think it's only for propriety's sake, because Uther doesn't want to appear less than perfect, but this doesn't sound like Uther, whose considerations are political first and foremost, and the king having an illegitimate daughter shouldn't hurt Arthur. And Uther isn't talking about whether or not Arthur would be hurt or disappointed personally; it's not Arthur who 'must never know who Morgana really is', it's the people, 'for Arthur's sake'. According to Morgause, Morgana has a claim to the throne as Uther's daughter— is she the older of the two, and would that give her a stronger claim? Uther doesn't know about her alliance with Morgause and under normal circumstances she shouldn't be a threat to Arthur's succession. OTOH, Gaius says that if Uther were dead, only Arthur would stand between Morgana and the throne; in his eyes Arthur still remains the automatic successor. Something here here doesn't add up; either it's just sloppy writing, or we haven't heard the whole story yet.



( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 13th, 2010 12:06 am (UTC)
Tell that guilt to take a hike! I'm glad you have the week off to rest and get better.
Oct. 13th, 2010 10:48 am (UTC)
Thanks - I already have! :)
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )


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