The premise, Arthur intervenes in the execution of a witch that was sentenced without any trial. The witch however dies from injuries she received before being taken to be burnt at the stake. As she dies she gives Arthur a gift of appreciation, the horn of Neimitan. The horn of Neimitan will allow Arthur to summon the spirit of someone who has died. After consulting with Gaius, Arthur decides to use the horn to give himself an opportunity to speak with his father. Ignorant of the dangers of summoning the dead Arthur releases Uther's spirit into the world of the living. Uther is not happy with his son's decisions. Arthur has made commoners into knights, married a peasant, he actually listens to other people and allows his knights and council to decent. Things which in Uther's mind tarnish his legacy.
After Uther terrorizes the knights and Gwen, Arthur and Merlin work together to send Uther's spirit back to the underworld. Having witnessed his father's actions Arthur can see quite clearly that he will never have his father's approval and nor does he want the approval of the man that his father is. For the longer arcs of magic being made legal, Merlin's sorcery no longer being a secret and the coming of the golden age of Camelot this is an important episode. In order to do these things King Arthur must be a different king than King Uther.
Uther was emotionally an abusive parent. When a child tells a parent "I love her," and the parent's reply is "I'm going to burn her at the stake" that is emotional abuse. Emotional abuse to a child at the hands of a parent can be the most insidious. It is a parent's job to teach their children how to understand their feelings and express them in a healthy way. However, when the parent's feelings are consistently more important than the child's feelings the child does not learn these valuable lessons. Uther is the only parent Arthur has. In fact Uther seems to be the only person Arthur had for a very long time. Given the nature of emotional abuse, Arthur's utter dependence on Uther, the fact that Uther could be very loving to Arthur and Arthur's guilt over how his father died it would be nearly impossible for Arthur to see Uther for what he really is or to feel confident in ruling differently from his father; thus the necessity of this episode. However I said brilliant idea rather than brilliant episode.
Unfortunately the writers, director and producers of this episode fail to appreciate what is truly needed for an individual to confront someone that has emotionally abused them, to exploit the talented cast that they have or the new family that Arthur has built with his wife and the knights. Once the danger is established, Arthur and Merlin take action to deal with threat. The queen and the knights are given no explanation regarding what is happening and are not given an opportunity to support Arthur in this situation. Instead we get several minutes of Merlin and Arthur's comedy duo; this is how the episode fails.
Guinevere and the knights are the best representatives of new Camelot thus far. Queen Guinevere more so than anyone else represents everything that Uther is striving to destroy to the extent of being willing to kill his own son. With Guinevere you have the story of a woman who ascended from the lowest position to the highest not simply because her husband loves her but specifically because of her virtues and attitudes. Arthur doesn't love Gwen because of her beauty and her charm though she has these qualities but because of her bravery, her wisdom, thoughtfulness etc...While Arthur proclaims to love her at no time do we see Arthur at her side after being brutally attacked. This is a huge failing. Showing the audience Arthur's commitment to caring for her as a husband and king shows us the man that he is as well as reassures us that the values of the new Camelot are important to the king and allows the audience to trust him.
Now there are some of you saying "hey this a children's show we need to lighten the mood or that this episode is about Arthur of course it focuses on him".
The slapstick scenes in this episode go on for a very long time. Thirty seconds of those scenes would have given Arthur a moment at his injured wife's bedside to show how much he cares for both her and the new Camelot. The way the episode is edited it would appear that there is such a scene that has been deleted. In the scenes after Arthur is made aware of the situation he shown as calm and even making jokes, his worry for his wife is absent, he seems almost callous. If you can't be trusted to provide the most basic care to your wife why should you be trusted to look after a kingdom?
"As for Arwen scenes, again, this wasn't really the episode to have them all over each other. This episode was about Arthur and Uther, and Gwen really had no business in it shy of worrying about Arthur's overall well being, which was shown at the dinner celebration."
"For all intents and purposes, the Arwen story in this show is complete…" "This is still a children's show at heart and it won't have the soapy-type drama that adult shows would have where Arwen would have threats of infidelity or lusty affairs."
The preceding comments were made by women and are indicative of the worst type of internalized sexism. For one they indicate an attitude that says Gwen's only possible contribution to storylines is either sexual or mothering in nature despite the show itself repeatedly and blatantly both telling and showing us otherwise. Worst they suggests that it is neither necessary nor helpful for children to see a husband and wife take care of each other. Yes comedy can lighten the mood but Arthur reassuring Gwen that she was going to be okay, that he was going to take care of her, Gwen reassuring Arthur that he can stand up for himself are not only essential to marriage but could have served to reassure the children in the audience that everything was going to be okay. Instead of a potentially touching scene that portrays some sense of what a marriage means, of what love means, Arthur goes blithely forward as if his wife's injuries are of no concern to him. Whether or not a television show is designated as educational children do learn from what they watch. What message does that send?
Overall the episode is lopsided; its brilliant premise is not driven home to viewers in a way that makes the strongest emotional impact. Talented actors, enjoyable characters and Merlin's own symbols are not used in any capacity after viewing one wonders if the writers and producers of Merlin are even capable of seeing the brilliant raw material in front of them. I recommend skipping this episode unless you're looking for a lesson in how not to tell stories.
So we've been chatting over on tumblr and we're encouraging everyone that watches Merlin and wants more Angel Coulby and Queen Guinevere to make their voices heard.
Please note I kept my focus here on the lack of the royal marriage because of the nature of this specific story. That said every episode of Merlin could do with Queen Guinevere having more storylines both with and without her husband.
sorry for the delay on this everyone