Merlin Series 5 Review “The Dark Tower” — An Impenetrable Forest and a Burning Boat

It’s hard to review Merlin without referring back to the magic reveal that just will not happen. Week after week we tune in waiting for Merlin to reveal all, allowing himself to use his powers whenever he deems necessary. ‘The Dark Tower’ was one of those episodes where Merlin’s abilities could have changed everything, if he would just use them.

This week saw Morgana kidnap Gwen and imprison her in a tower. She lets Arthur know where Gwen is by means of visions given to an injured Leon and Percival. I’m actually amazed that Merlin bothered to tell Arthur that he and Gaius suspected Morgana — in the past they’ve usually hidden that information with dire results. Character growth? Perhaps.

Then it was onto the actual rescuing. The boys spent a day walking before Leon and Percival had their visions. The second day was spent wandering aimlessly around the Impenetrable Forest. You would imagine that after a few hours, Merlin would say ‘oh, this is ridiculous’ and use one of his numerous abilities to try and guide them and/or cut a path through the forest.

Not so. In fact Merlin waited until he’d spoken to Queen Mab, a fairy (and possibly the most random and pointless guest character to date), before breaking out a shiny new ability to try. When did Merlin discover he had it? Why didn’t he use it the day before? I suggest we ask Gwaine, because he seemed to be the only one with a lick of sense in this episode.

Meanwhile, back at a dark tower — named, rather aptly, The Dark Tower — Morgana locked Gwen in a room full of mandrake root for a couple days. The horrific screaming and visions of her loved ones taunting her sent Gwen a bit mad. (Sidenote: Colin Morgan can roar at me any day, baby.)

Now, I’ve never been locked in a room with mandrake root by my crazy ex-friend, but it seemed to work a little too well, too quickly. I choose to imagine Morgana slipped Gwen a magical mickey to enhance its effects at some point between the final mandrake room scene and the sword room scene. Either that, or one too many slow motion head injuries finally took their toll.

Morgana’s plan is actually pretty ingenious and leads us into the next episode. Morgana’s Stockholm syndrome-d Gwen into believing she’s the only trustworthy person around and that everyone else should be despised. Presumably this is the show’s take on a False Guinevere situation, and it could work really well depending on how it’s resolved. I won’t hold my breath, though. As much as I love parts of series 5, I’m finding it equally as frustrating.

The most frustrating thing for me in this episode, besides Merlin’s lack of a magic reveal, was Elyan’s death. Now I know it was foreshadowed, and probably so obvious that most people were headdesking from the outset of the episode, but I didn’t see it coming until he broke away from the group in the tower. I think it’s because I was more concerned about Gwaine — he had so many awesome lines that I was sure they were building him up for an early exit. The thought of his swooshy hair swooshing no more was almost too much for my little heart, so I’m glad he didn’t die, but I still don’t understand why Elyan did.

Isn’t Elyan’s death counterintuitive? Shouldn’t Gwen blame Morgana for his death instead of Arthur and the boys? I’m no psychologist; I don’t quite get it. From a fan/reviewer point of view, I really don’t see the logic in losing one of the show’s strongest actors. They should have been using Elyan more in this series, not killing him off!

Another thing I was wondering for the entirety of the episode: where was Mordred? He was the beloved up-and-coming knight last week and yet he was nowhere to be seen this week. I wanted to see Mordred reassuring Arthur, being glared at by jealous-and-suspicious Merlin, worrying about his next encounter with angry Morgana. For crying out loud, use your characters, Merlin!

At this point I would really love one utterly irreverent episode. Just 45 minutes of the knights hanging out in a tavern, sans Arthur and Merlin, so we can get their view on everything that’s happened. Because, dear reader, I need to know what the other characters make of events and whether everything that happens makes sense to them, even if doesn’t to us. And perhaps most importantly, I need to hear lines like ‘I dreamt about eating a cheese that tasted of apple pie. Anyone else have that dream? You’re all missing out.’ get the chuckles they deserve.

What did you think of ‘The Dark Tower’, dear reader? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

  • TKendal

    What an astounding… bad episode! Where do I start?
    Morgana kidnaps Gwen, and many of the reviews online are saying “he rushed into action”. No he didn’t, he said “we’ll go at dawn” and then he went for a kip. Then they got lost in an impenetrable forest called imaginatively “The Impenetrable Forest” and then kipped down for another night’s… sleep (I’m starting to question their marriage – it sure as hell doesn’t seem like he’s in a rush to find her!). Then we had a pointless bit of foreshadowing by “Queen Mab” – well it’s clear someone on the Merlin writing team watched the last season of True Blood. And, for a “horror” episode, the fake screams and plastic skeletons did nothing to even give me goosebumps. Lame.The only thing the episode did right was to kill ELyan. One step closer to being historically accurate at least. Overall, poor, very very poor.

    • Anonymous

      he said “we’ll go at dawn” and then he went for a kip

      When I was watching the episode, I actually had to pause, rewind and listen again to see if I’d heard correctly. It was ridiculous. Even if Arthur didn’t go himself, he surely would have sent a few knights to look in case Gwen was wandering around in the dark on her own.

      Shall we even mention how Arthur took the injured Percival and Leon along on the search despite the dark magic coursing around their bodies? What if Morgana had magically mind controlled them to kill Arthur? In fact, why didn’t she? Hell, why didn’t Morgana convince newly evil Gwen to kill Arthur in his sleep? Does Morgana even want to rule Camelot, or is she just the biggest troll ever? Sheesh.

  • AB2012ish

    the show is losing me.I’m not a typical demographic as I’m older,but have younger family watching the show,who have also lost interest,due to the disconnect. No relationship between Arthur and Gwen, no use of the kinghts,who I hoped would be developed in this season. I did think the show could have gone on much longer that 5 seasons,but not at this rate. Too many disconnected areas and again,what’s up with Arthur & Gwen. When will Merlin see his full potential. The relationship between Arthur and Mordred has more”love” than with his queen. I want to see more use of the knights as well.

  • Ed Win

    Sorry. Was disappointed with this episode too. Why didn’t Arthur berate his knights when they lost his Queen? He really should have torn a strip off each of them. Merlin really needs to step up several gears in the magic department. He has to be told by a wood fairy to use is magic to get out of a forest? COME ON MERLIN!! the Queen’s life is at stake! He should be turning people into frogs by now surely rather than using his boring ‘deflect arrow’ spell. And as for Morgana’s use of magic to make Queen Gwen turn bad. Well, I’m not sold. I don’t like the idea. If Morgana wants to turn Gwen against Arthur then let’s see her use dark powers to resurrect Lancelot and get things back on track.  

  • Nicola Colohan

    When I was a child I was addicted to the American cartoon series “Dungeons & Dragons”.  There was an episode in series 3 called ” Quest of the Skeletal Warrior”. This was back in 1984 28 years ago.  This episode is almost the same story as this Merlin episode and I just wonder if the writer of this Merlin Episode, Julian Jones, watched this same Dungeons & Dragons Episode as the similarities are so very apparent.

  • Anonymous

    ‘ As much as I love parts of series 5, I’m finding it equally as frustrating.’ YES, YES, YES.
    I totally love the show and TBH I really enjoyed ‘The dark Tower’ as an episode.  But you are so right. The ‘Why’  or alternatively the ‘Why not’  question seem to be mounting up the further the season moves along (every episode if filled with incongruities)
    We are now virtually halfway through the season and there is still no reveal.  Merlin could have done so much using his magic (right since ep 1!), yet, in this episode, he needs to be reminded by Queen Mab that he has got something like the inner sight.  SIGH!
    In the trailer for next week we see Merlin thrown off his horse by Morgana.  If we get another scene where Morgana tries to kill Merlin without him properly fighting back (like with MAGIC), I’ll scream.  It is high time Merlin is turning into the man we know he is.
    Yes, I love the Merthur moments that have been cropping up every episode (nice handshake, signs of respect from Arthur  etc.)  but,  at the end of the day Merlin is still a lackey (as said in the last ep.)  making Arthur’s bed and cleaining his shoes.  When will this change???

    • mpamies

      The problem is that the writers of this show don’t want this to change. They want Merlin as a lackey, a servant. A nobody

      • Anonymous

        Absolutely!  Merlin also does not point out how often he has saved Arthur’s life!
        I must say I would be sooooo sad if it never comes to the recognition bit between Arthur and Merlin. That is what the whole show has been about from season 1.  I thought …

        • mpamies

          I think that Merlin getting recognition for everything he has done up to this point is nearly impossible. It’s the saddest thing in the world, I agree. 
          A magic reveal is not only something that every Merlin fan wants (and things its loooong overdue) but something that could really help refresh the show. Instead they choose to go with the enemy in our midst ala servant of two masters in Gwen form. It’s all so disappointing. Merlin, the ‘titular’ character doesn’t even have an episode dedicated to him, nor does he have his own story ark. It’s all about Mordred and what he might do to Arthur.I’m seriously thinking about quiting the show. I probably won’t. I’ll watch it till the end, (only half a series left after all) just to see if they’ll do the reveal, but there is no way I’m buying the DVDs. 

          • Anonymous

            It is a shame indeed how the writers are managing to put fans off.

  •  There was a big, fairly dreary build up to a face slap of a climax with a twist that made me a bit dizzy…..

    I think the writers are losing their will to write a script at the moment. Its not the first time iv been shouting at the screen saying BUT THEY WOULDNT DO THAT!! For example, When Merlin randomly declares he knows the way out of the scary forrest by really obviously staring at the gound for ages, everybody just accepts this. WHAT!? Somebody would have gone “now hang on a sec! You know where were going?” Like i know Arthur trusts him completly but thats pushing it just a tad!!!

    Also with Morgana and Gwen? What actually happened at the end?? Because in the tower Gwen was trusting Morgana but she always backed off and caught herself. I know she began to feel sorry for her but i didnt sense any allegiance shifts. And as far as I could see there was no enchantment put on Gwen. So at the end when she declares she hates them all and want them all dead?? Did that seem a bit Out Of The Blue to anybody else?? I dont think the writers explained it enough.

    I personally think that the story is becoming a bit “forced”. And the lack of light humour to break the tention every so often is making the episodes twice as long and harder to follow. I miss Happy go Lucky Merlin from previous series. Yes Sire, No Sire, Three Bags Full Sire is getting a bit depressing.

  • Guest

    Wonderful review. I couldn’t agree more. The show doesn’t seem to care about telling a coherent story anymore, and they show little to no love or respect for the characters they created. It’s a huge disappointment after all the build-up (and waiting on our part).

  • Hanhensh

    Wonderful episode if you ask me. Although I did cry when Elyan died. A lot of you are saying Merlin is not as good this season. Well I am sorry but I dont see how. Merlin is fantastic and has plenty of excitement. Yes they are dragging out Merlins secret. But thats so we cab have another season or two. I’m glad they are doing that. There Is still plenty of things going on without Arthur knowing Merlins secret. I seem to be the only one who is still a full supporter of Merlin. Come on guys, whats wrong with you?????

    • Fox

      This is the last season apparently. Theres still no sign of a magic reveal from spoilers right up until the last 2 episodes and possibly not even then, while they’re dishing out this padded, illogical rubbish. Thats whats wrong with us.

    • AB2012ish

       no coherent story, big gaps no use of the strong characters we have all come to love.
      No A/G relationship after the build up in previous seasons. Death of a knight, Merlin still hiding and still a servant. Thats what is wrong with us

    • geljean

      What’s wrong with us?  I’ve been wanting and waiting to see Colin acting out the promise of Merlin’s prowess as the character should be.  The only plently that are going on without Arthur knowing Merlins secret are rehashed, recycled and renamed story arcs.  If the writers can’t come up more exciting, more credible, more magically spectacular, more meaning plots post-reveal, then their ideas are stale and already way past expiry date.   The show should have been titled “Arthur” instead. 

    • Anonymous

      A few points here:

      I think series 5 has a great premise, looks amazing, and has shown promise of turning into a nice ensemble show. (While I love Merlin as a character, this is a show that benefits from the secondary characters getting more screen time.)

      Assuming Merlin’s magic is being kept secret to prolong the life of the show is completely disregarding the fact the show could continue on post-reveal quite easily. At this point, ten years since Merlin and Arthur met, and 3/4 years since Arthur became king, not having had a reveal is what threatens to ruin the show and/or irritate some of the fans.

      Being dissatisfied with things on the show doesn’t mean we don’t support it. We wouldn’t complain about wasted potential if we didn’t care!

  • Gslide06

    This show is really losing me for a plethora of reasons 1) Wayyyyy to long for Merlin to reveal his magic to Arthur. 2) Morganna having more lives than a cat is so annoying. Getting stabbed by Mordred, buildings caving in on her multiple times. Lame….just kill her off already and get a new villain. 3( They SHACKLE Merlin’s magic too much. I want to see a whole episode of kick ass magic 4) Not enough dragon appearances. 5) Killing Elyan for an arbitrary reason is gravy to the pile of poor this show mounts. It’s clear the show isn’t following history to the tee, so mine as well make your viewers satisfied. Last week was actually awesome to with Mordred almost getting killed then they follow-it up with refuse. You’re wasting your potential Merlin creators.