When miracle cures start happening around the kingdom, Uther naturally gets itchy to execute the wizard behind them. He sends Gaius out to investigate, but it quickly transpires that the person behind the magic is an old girlfriend of his…who just happens to dabble in the old religion.
You know the drill by now – nobody shows up in Camelot with an agenda of some kind. And Alice is no exception. She’s in the thrall of a manticore, a strange beastie that has the head of a lion and the tail of a scorpion. And their agenda is to poison Uther. What a shock. It’s a wonder the characters in Merlin aren’t much more wary of outsiders.
Uther’s purge of the old religion has been a feature of this series. If this weren’t a family show, I’d love them to develop this angle – Uther as a genocidal maniac. His extreme prejudice toward the old religion resulting in the mass slaughter of his subjects. The problem, as ever, is that Uther’s continuing reign attracts the worst elements of the old religion.
For some reason, Merlin never seems to tie these threads together very successfully. When we see Uther, he doesn’t seem irrational, and Arthur seems to have a continuing affection for his father, so it’s hard to see him as the genocidal ruler of Camelot. Look at how Uther’s reign affects those around him – it’s turned Morgana into a monster, Merlin must continue to hide his secret, Gaius had to give up his future wife and live alone. Camelot is under constant attack from vengeful adherents of the old religion.
If I had to rewrite this show, I’d have Uther much more unhinged – haunted by his actions years ago, but too proud to revoke his decision and apologise to the people. You can only imagine how many families in Camelot were affected by the purge. More two-parters as well would help develop viable enemies of the kingdom. Let’s face it, Morgause and that eye-candy king aren’t exactly much of a threat.
Anyway, back to the episode at hand – Love In The Time Of Dragons – Naturally, it doesn’t take Merlin long to realise Alice has a secret, but a besotted Gaius refuses to believe Merlin. Oh dear, haven’t we been here before? What’s confusing here is that Gaius seems to be randomly testing Alice as the episode goes on – trusting her with Uther’s medicine while asking her questions about their past. But to Merlin’s face, he’s still offended that his apprentice doesn’t trust his girlfriend.
In the end, Alice manages to poison Uther with manticore venom. But what happens next is crucial – Arthur realises that the only way Uther could come to be poisoned was through his medicine. And Merlin must either point the finger of blame at Alice, or allow Gaius to be the object of suspicion. Naturally, he outs Alice. And this buys him and Gaius some time to draw out the manticore and kill it, thus saving Uther.
Again, a moment of criticism. Uther orders Alice’s execution, and Gaius tries to speak on her behalf. Except this being Merlin, Alice manages to escape before her date with the hangman. What if the execution had gone ahead, and Uther was responsible for the death of Gaius’ one true love? Can you imagine the bad feeling? Can you imagine how this would affect the court of Camelot? Maybe Gaius speaking out against the king and going into exile, Merlin left alone in the castle without his mentor, Arthur made starkly aware of his father’s failings?
Damnit Merlin, so many missed opportunities!