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Cult Recap

'Merlin': New episode 'The Drawing of the Dark' review

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Merlin S05E11 - 'The Drawing of the Dark: Kara (ALEXANDRA DOWLING), Mordred (ALEX VLAHOS)
Season 5, episode 11 | Aired Saturday, Dec 15 2012 at 20:15 GMT on BBC One

It's the antepenultimate instalment of Merlin - yes, that's third-to-last in fancy talk - and things are getting serious. We all knew that Mordred (Alexander Vlahos) would play a key role in this fifth series when he was first introduced in the opening episodes, but since then the writers of Merlin have seen fit to relegate the character to a supporting role for the most part.

This week though, Morded is afforded a great deal more screen time, allowing Vlahos to showcase his range - and the 24-year-old actor does not disappoint when asked to do more than simply lurk in the shadows.

Out on a hunt, Arthur (Bradley James), Merlin (Colin Morgan) and the knights stumble across the scene of a brutal attack close to the city walls. Mordred pursues a mysterious figure lurking nearby - it's Kara, with whom he appears to have a past connection, quite possibly a romantic one.

When Mordred allows his old friend to escape, Merlin's suspicions about his fellow warlock are once again inflamed. But in these early scenes, we were surprised to find ourselves actually siding with Mordred - who genuinely means no harm - over Merlin, who ruthlessly pursues his quarry. Could it be that our hero's undying suspicion and refusal to trust Mordred is what ultimately pushes him to the dark side?

Merlin S05E11 - 'The Drawing of the Dark: Kara (ALEXANDRA DOWLING), Mordred (ALEX VLAHOS)


Once he's reunited with Kara in the depths of the forest, Mordred is able to be truly honest and open, revealing a good deal about his real character - he genuinely trusts Arthur and considers the king to be his friend. That's what makes his subsequent downfall all the more tragic.

Merlin gives Mordred his word that he will keep Kara's existence a secret, but a determined Arthur eventually uncovers her hiding place. Kara makes a mistake in attempting to strike the king - with only Merlin's quick magical reflexes saving Arthur from serious injury - and showing no remorse, she's locked away in a cell to rot.

Mordred won't believe that Merlin did not betray him and swears vengeance. Refusing to listen to reason becomes a recurring theme in 'Drawing' - in a powerful scene well-played by guest star Alexandra Dowling and series regular Bradley James, Arthur won't accept fault on his part when Kara lashes out over his treatment of the druids, while Kara herself won't accept that the king is not a tyrant like his father.

Merlin S05E11 - 'The Drawing of the Dark': King Arthur Pendragon (Bradley James)


As with Merlin's suspicious pursuit of Mordred, stubbornness and single-mindedness lead to catastrophe - outed as a friend of Morgana, Kara is sentenced to death. In a desperate attempt to save her, a tearful Mordred reveals his connection to the prisoner and begs Arthur to spare her, but despite his reservations, the King refuses to change her sentence.

From this point, Mordred seems locked into his dark fate - even his nemesis Merlin buckles, asking Arthur to reconsider, but the monarch will not budge. Merlin fears that if Mordred departs Camelot, he will fall under Morgana's influence once more and is desperate to keep him within the castle walls.

Faced with a difficult choice - allow Kara to die or allow her to live and possibly doom his friend, the king - Merlin betrays Mordred for real, but he and Arthur are too late to stop the driven druid. In these scenes, Alexander Vlahos succeeds in making the viewer feel Mordred's torment, as he's torn between his love for Kara and his disgust at her new-found bloodthirsty nature.

Merlin S05E11 - 'The Drawing of the Dark: Kara (ALEXANDRA DOWLING)


Arthur and the knights pursue the fugitives into the night and Merlin's nightmarish vision is in danger of coming true when Mordred draws his sword on the king - but a well-timed blow from Percival (Tom Hopper) averts disaster.

Merlin's continuing pleas for mercy fall on deaf ears as Arthur remains steadfast and the stage appears set for a final, terrible battle, with Arthur's nature sealing his own fate. However, the king ultimately offers Kara the hand of forgiveness, only for her to slap it away - refusing to repent for her crimes and securing her place in the hangman's noose.

Mordred has been locked in the cells - seemingly powerless, he can do little but spit vitriol at Merlin. But as the viewer knows, he's far from powerless and unleashes his powerful magic, escaping captivity and heading straight for Morgana's fortress. Brought before the dark queen (Katie McGrath), he reveals the information she has sought for so long - the true identity of Emrys…

'The Drawing of the Dark' is an epic, engaging and emotional episode of Merlin, anchored by a fantastic, series-best performance from Alexander Vlahos. With Mordred turning to the dark side and Merlin's identity exposed to his greatest foe, the stage is set for a powerful and quite possibly heartbreaking climax.

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