This week’s episode of Merlin opens like so many have this season: with Merlin and Arthur alone, squabbling like an old married couple. Okay, now I get it. This is the HoYay, right? This is the “homoeroticism” everyone keeps talking about. No touching, no kissing, no nuzzling, no brief nudity or adult situations, just…bickering. If I wanted to watch a couple spend all its time quarreling, I’d just visit my parents.
Anyway, our intrepid couple is walking through the woods when they hear a scream. They rush to a village where the villagers are having their version of a Fried Green Tomatoes barbecue (“Secret’s in the sauce!”) by tying a very creaky old lady to a wooden stake and planning to set her on fire. Seriously, this lady is so old and so desiccated that she’d probably spontaneously combust if you just rubbed her forearms together. But I digress. Arthur intervenes, and the villagers explain the woman knows black magic and that she is a “dark lady.”
Excitedly, Arthur wonders if she also knows “Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves” and other songs from the Cher playbook, so her cuts her down and he and Merlin decide to take her with them. The old woman was apparently five minutes from dying on her own anyway, but before she croaks she tells Arthur he is a kindly sort and gives him her magic horn, which has the power to summon spirits. I’m not sure what it says about me when I was immediately hoping that the spirits in question included peach schnapps and aquavit, but of course Merlin being Merlin, she meant the spirits of the dead. Somehow, I don’t find summoning dead people as useful at a cocktail party as summoning booze, since dead people just eat all the canapés and never offer to help clean up.
Speaking of parties, upon their return from killing old ladies, there is a fabulous celebration in Camelot. It appears that this is the anniversary of Arthur’s coronation, but Arthur is not having a good time, mostly because his special dragon-shaped piñata did not arrive. Pensive, Arthur goes to visit the tomb of his father, who, carved in stone and in profile, looks weirdly a lot like Abraham Lincoln, or, I suppose, Daniel Day-Lewis, since he is apparently so “method” that they are going to put him on the five-dollar bill now. Merlin finds Arthur and asks him what he is doing. Arthur replies that he is deep in thought, and Merlin says, “You, thinking? Now I’m really getting worried,” whereupon Arthur takes his sword and cuts Merlin’s head off. No, of course he does not, but man, for a servant, Merlin has been pretty sassy lately. Instead, Arthur replies, “Leave it…I’m telling you, I’m the king of Camelot…” And Merlin, goofy and irrepressible as all servants are (they’re just a regular hoot on Downton Abbey, aren’t they? Especially that Bates, what a laugh riot!), smirks at his lord and master and says, “You’re threatening me with a spoon?” Whereupon we cut to the hallway and hear Merlin howl. Oh, Merlin. I suspect Arthur knows a lot of ways to make you howl, and only seventeen of them involve a spoon. And at least one involves forking.
The two set off again (road trip!) and travel to a set of standing stones, sort of like Stonehenge, only done a much smaller budget. Foamhenge maybe? This is where Gaius has informed the king, if he blows his horn right he can summon the spirits of the dead. Including, apparently, the spirit of the dead king and Arthur’s father, Uther Pendragon. Guest star alert!
But first I should make an obligatory joke about Arthur blowing horn and raising all of our spirits…what? You’ve already made that joke in your heads? Okay, very good. I’ll just move along.
Arthur decides that he needs to tell his father all the squishy things he never got a chance to (like I love you, I respect you, I liked you so much better as Rupert…) but it turns out that when Uther returns from grave, he is more than a wee bit disappointed in his son’s actions. Uther rails that Arthur is a terrible king, that he allows commoners to become knights (well, they go through them like Kleenex—someone has to take the job!), that he does not know his own mind and that, horror of horrors, he married a commoner. Whoa, folks: Uther Pendragon has returned from the dead and he is cranky! He tells his son, “You have failed…you destroyed my legacy…and you instituted casual Friday. What is up with that?”
The conversation ends when Whoopi Goldberg no longer feels like channeling the dead, and Arthur returns to the realm of the living, full of doubts about his ability to rule. Geez! This “greatest king of all time” has a lot of performance anxiety.
Anyway, he and Merlin return to Camelot but it appears someone hitchhiked alongside them. Suddenly the castle is inundated with all the usual haunted house motifs: creaking doors, windows opening and closing by themselves, candles flickering. It’s like an episode of Ghost Hunters, only more real. But things turn serious when we end up in the armory after some intense medieval cardio. Turns out—and I hadn’t realized this—that the armory is the medieval version of a locker room. Oh, my, locker rooms scenes with the knights of Camelot! I get excited watching as the hunky knights take off their chain mail and reveal…seven more layers of clothing. Seriously, Teen Wolf this ain’t. Oh well, at least we have Sir Percival’s fabulous arms in that chain mail wife-beater of his.
Percival is chided because he is always the last to leave. Lurking in the locker room, Percy? People will talk. Finally alone, he starts to take off his clothing. Well, he takes off his arms bands, but in my mind I can hear the opening refrains of “Let Me Entertain You” and somewhere in the background Mama Rose is shouting, “Sing out, Louise!” Suddenly Percival is attacked by the ghost, who ends up stabbing him in the shoulder with an axe. Percival goes to see Gaius for treatment and I think I’d be more than content to go to medical school if I could end up playing doctor with Percival!
Worried about the increasing frequency of odd events in the castle, Merlin tells Gaius about what Arthur did with his horn, and Gaius warns that by “looking back” Arthur has allowed Uther to come back with them. Arthur scoffs at this notion until Guinevere is attacked by shields and spears that come flying off the wall (I think her only line in the entire episode is “Eeeeekkkk!”).
Umm, if you live in a time of mist and magic, maybe it’s wiser to invest in slightly less deadly home décor? Perhaps Arthur should go in for French Country versus Dark Ages Weaponry. It might involve a bit more dusting but when a quilt comes flying off the wall at you, it leaves less of a bruise. Gaius gives Merlin and Arthur a potion they can take to see Uther (a potion, I might add, that is the exact color of Mountain Dew. You know, when I was a kid, my grandmother told me that Mountain Dew was made up entirely of goat pee. And people wonder why I am so messed up…) They need to hunt the ghost down and Arthur needs to blow the horn again in his father’s presence to get rid of him. Insert your own dirty joke here.
Somehow this episode of Merlin has suddenly become Ghost Dad, and considering how bad that movie was, for the first time I’m actually feeling afraid. The intrepid duo try to track down Uther and I am reminded of the old saying: guests and fish always stink after three days. Now that they can see Uther, Merlin and Arthur go searching for him, bringing along Zelda Rubenstein for a little extra support. They run into Leon, who wonders what the two are up to sneaking around the castle at night with a torch and a horn. Arthur goes all blond and freezes, and Merlin says that he is teaching Arthur poetry. Leon finds this odd, mostly because he is pretty sure Arthur can’t read. Nonetheless Arthur agrees with Merlin, and Leon asks to hear some poetry. Arthur immediately recites: “There was a young girl from Nantucket…” Or something. Moving on, the duo find a mouse and some birds as spooky red herrings, and I am suddenly thinking these people need to call a good exterminator before they come across a raccoon really scare themselves silly.
Arthur finds Uther on the throne, and Uther is embarrassed because they are out of toilet paper. No, as before he rails against his son, and the two have it out yet again. Uther uses a shield from the wall to knock Arthur unconscious and, seriously, Camelot really needs to call in those Queer Eye guys right away. Thom Filicia would have all that weaponry out of there in five seconds flat: too medieval, too butch, and the insurance premiums must be out of this world!
(Plus, Carson Kressley would be making inappropriate catcalls in the dressing room while watching the knights try on more metrosexual chain mail.)
Merlin confronts Uther about being an anti-magic douchebag and suddenly it is Merlin’s magic versus Uther’s ghost fu. Uther gets the upper hand and is about to run Merlin through when Arthur appears, all ready to blow his horn. Uther tries to get him not to blow his horn but Arthur is soooo ready to blow his horn. It seems like he’s been waiting for five seasons. Uther shouts out, “Merlin has m—” but doesn’t quite finish that last word before Arthur banishes him back to the spirit world. Desperately covering, Merlin stammers that what Uther was trying to say is that Merlin has “measles…marmosets…mighty mighty tighty whities…” but Arthur doesn’t really care.
Zelda declares that, “This castle is clean,” and the show ends with the two engaging in foreplay—err, horseplay, as if nothing has happened. But now Arthur has to live with the fact that while his paid servant thinks he is the greatest king since the invention of stool softener, his own father views him as a disappointment. Hmm. So Arthur’s “chosen” group of outsiders—commoner wife, jug-eared servant, ramshackle group of merry men/knights—love, respect, and accept Arthur for who he is, while his family (father and crazy sister) hate Arthur for who he is. You know, that may just be the gayest thing about him.