Recap: Merlin S 01 E 01 The Dragons Call

The Dragon's Call

A sunny day. A grassy hill. A big castle on the horizon. A young man strolls toward the city, and judging by the wide eyes and the awestruck smile, he is a country-bumpkin. He wanders through the streets and stops to join a crowd outside the castle.

Upon a balcony overlooking the courtyard stands a familiar-looking King. However, Merlin’s eye is caught by a beautiful but distraught looking young woman watching from a nearby window.

Before them, a man is forcibly marched up onto a scaffold, and the King raises his arms to address the crowd.

Uther: Let this serve as a lesson to all. This man, Thomas James Collins, is judged guilty of conspiring to use enchantments and magic. And, pursuant to the laws of Camelot, I, Uther Pendragon, have decreed that such practices are banned on penalty of death. I pride myself as a fair and just king, but for the crime of sorcery there is but one sentence I can pass.

The man is beheaded and the crowd recoils. But King Uther seems cheerful enough, reminding them all that it has been twenty years since the Great Dragon has been captured and inviting them all to enjoy the celebrations. However, at that moment a cry goes up in the crowd.

An old woman steps forward and swears vengeance for the life of her son. Before the guards can grab her she disappears in a hurricane she has conjured with a necklace she wears around her neck. Shocked, Merlin glances up to see the woman close the window.

Merlin is looking for a man named Gaius, but his quiet entrance into the man’s chambers startles the elderly court physician. And unfortunately, he’s balancing halfway up a bookcase. Fortunately, Merlin has the ability to telekinetically slide a bed across the floor and break the man’s fall. Flustered, Gaius gets to his feet and demands to know who he is and where he studied magic. Merlin denies all knowledge of anything that’s just occurred, but the truth is obvious. Once Gaius has ascertained that this is his sister Hunith’s son, he directs Merlin to put his bag in his room, warns him to keep his magic a secret, and thanks him for saving his life. Merlin gives him a letter from his mother.

Hunith (voiceover): My dear Gaius, I turn to you for I feel lost and alone and don't know who to trust. It is every mother's fate to think her child is special, and yet I would give my life that Merlin were not so. Ours is a small village and he is so clearly at odds with people here that, if he were to remain, I fear what would become of him. He needs a hand to hold, a voice to guide, someone that might help him find a purpose for his gifts. I beg you, if you understand a mother's love for her son, keep him safe, and may God save you both.

Gaius stares into the distance thoughtfully as Merlin opens his bedroom window and looks out with excitement over Camelot.

Meanwhile, Uther approaches his ward Morgana, the young woman that Merlin saw earlier, and demands to know why she’s not at the feast. She isn’t impressed with his execution of the man and expresses her sympathy for his mother. Uther is equally unimpressed with her claims that he is only making enemies in his crusade against magic and insists that she be civil when his special guest arrives.

The special guest is Lady Helen, a young singer who is currently camped out in the woods on her way to Camelot. She is getting ready for bed when an old woman enters her tent and begins stabbing a straw effigy. Helen keels over in pain before dropping dead upon the bed. The witch uses her necklace to transform herself into the youthful Helen, though her reflection in the mirror still shows her true form.

The next morning, after a restless sleep in which his name is repeatedly intoned by a deep voice, Merlin awakes to a litany of chores that Gaius has prepared for him. He delivers various potions to Gaius’s patients and is just passing the training grounds when he notices a servant boy being bullied by a group of knights. The ringleader is using him as target practice by hurling knives at him. When the servant drops it in exhaustion, Merlin decides to step in.

He warns the young knight against such behaviour, though he only gets laughed at for his trouble. After a round of insults is exchanged, the knight challenges Merlin to take a swing at him. When Merlin fails miserably and finds himself with his hands pinned behind his back, he realizes he’s made a big mistake:

Arthur: I'll have you thrown in jail for that.
Merlin: What, who do you think you are? The King?
Arthur: No. I'm his son, Arthur.

Throughout all of this, another young woman watches with concern from an upper window as Merlin is escorted down to the dungeons and thrown into a cell.

That night, the witch disguised as Lady Helen gallops with her escort into Camelot and is greeted warmly by Uther in the throne room.

Once again, Merlin is haunted in the night by a voice that calls to him, and he’s relieved to find that Gaius has secured his release the following morning – only it comes at a price.

Locked securely in the stocks, Merlin is pelted with rotten fruit and vegetables by a group of children as Gaius watches in amusement. There is a short reprieve as the children restock their ammunition and Merlin looks up with interest at the approach of a young woman. She shyly introduces herself as Guinevere (better known as “Gwen”) who works as a maid for Lady Morgana. She just wanted to tell Merlin that she was impressed at the way he stood up to Prince Arthur, whom she considers a bully. The two awkwardly shake hands, and then Gwen makes a run for it as spectators line up with more vegetables.

Over dinner, Gaius once again warns Merlin about staying out of trouble, telling him that Uther has banned magic ever since the birth of Arthur. There is no magic in Camelot save the Great Dragon who was kept chained underground as an example. With that handy bit of exposition over, Gaius sends Merlin off with a tonic to give Lady Helen for her voice.

Merlin finds her room empty, but casts an interested glance over a magical book and the straw effigy that the witch has left in full view of anyone who might wander in. He’s caught in the act of snooping by Helen returning to her room, but covers by giving her the tonic. However, he manages to see her true reflection in the mirror behind her as he leaves.

Merlin is heading back to Gaius when he passes Arthur in the street, who goads him into another confrontation.

Arthur: How's your knee-walking coming along?
[Merlin keeps walking]
Arthur: Aw, don't run away!
[Merlin stops]
Merlin: From you?
Arthur: *sigh* Thank God. I thought you were deaf as well as dumb.
Merlin: Look, I've told you you're an ass.
[turns to face Arthur]
Merlin: I just didn't realise you were a royal one. Oh, what are you going to do? Get your daddy's men to protect you?
Arthur: I could take you apart with one blow.
Merlin: I could take you apart with less than that.
Arthur: Are you sure?

Arthur throws Merlin a mace and then advances with his own. Merlin clumsily tries to handle the weapon, but as the fight escalates and the crowd gathers, he falls back on a few discreet magic tricks to trip, distract, or otherwise hinder the prince. Arthur finally catches his foot in a bucket and goes toppling backward, at which point Merlin gets distracted by a disapproving Gaius watching him. Arthur takes the opportunity to knock Merlin to the ground with a broom, but then commands the guards to release him.

Arthur: Wait. Let him go. He may be an idiot, but he's a brave one. There's something about you, Merlin. I can't quite put my finger on it.

Back in Gaius’s quarters, Merlin is berated for his behaviour and we get our very first shirtless scene (the beginning of a proud tradition on this show) when Gaius tends to the scrapes on Merlin’s back. Sadly, Merlin wonders why he even has powers, and Gaius tells him that perhaps someone else has the answer he seeks.

That night, the voice once more awakens Merlin. He follows it back to the dungeons and distracts a pair of guards by telekinetically rolling their dice across the floor and out of reach. He sneaks past with a lit torch and heads down a dark stairwell. At the end of the tunnel Merlin enters a huge subterranean cave. With a clap of wings and a rush of wind, a massive dragon hurtles down from the darkness and lands on a stone outcropping before Merlin. A chain is secured around his foot, but he looks at the gobsmacked Merlin keenly.

Dragon: I'm here. How small you are for such a great destiny.
Merlin: Why? What do you mean? What destiny?
Dragon: Your gift, Merlin, was given to you for a reason.
Merlin: So there is a reason.
Dragon: Arthur is the Once and Future King who will unite the land of Albion.
Merlin: Right.
Dragon: But he faces many threats from friend and foe alike.
Merlin: I don't see what this has to do with me.
Dragon: Everything. Without you, Arthur will never succeed. Without you, there will be no Albion.
Merlin: No. No, you've got this wrong.
Dragon: There is no right or wrong, only what is and what isn't.
Merlin: But I'm serious! If anyone wants to go and kill him, they can go ahead. In fact, I'll give them a hand.
Dragon: None of us can choose our destiny, Merlin, and none of us can escape it.
Merlin: No. No way. No. No. There must be another Arthur because this one's an idiot.
Dragon: Perhaps it's your destiny to change that.

Is it any wonder the fans call him the Slash Dragon?

The next morning Gaius has more errands for the sleep-deprived Merlin, including a tonic for Morgana. According to Gaius, she suffers from nightmares. According to Merlin, he can relate.

Merlin finds Morgana’s room and – as is his way – wanders in. This time he’s hit the jackpot, as Morgana is disrobing behind a screen as she complains about Arthur. Thinking that Gwen has entered, Morgana asks Merlin to pass her a dress, and once he’s shaken himself out of his stupor he throws it over the screen. Morgana’s questions to “Gwen” become more specific and Merlin is about to bolt for it when the real Gwen enters the room and hurriedly covers for her new friend. Now considerably more eager to attend the feast, Morgana choses her most anachronistic dress in order to:

That night, after the false Lady Helen has dispatched of a young servant girl who was unlucky enough to spot her real reflection in the mirror, the court gathers in the banquet hall. Both Arthur and Merlin are struck dumb by Morgana’s grand entrance, and fail to notice Guinevere as she sidles in alongside her. However, in the most glorious example of Dramatic Irony that this series has to offer, Merlin and Gwen have the following conversation:

Gwen: She looks great, doesn't she?
Merlin: Yeah.
Gwen: Some people are just born to be queen.
Merlin: No!
Gwen: I hope so. One day. Not that I'd want to be her. Who'd want to marry Arthur?

Celebratory horns signal King Uther's entrance and everyone finds their place at the tables as he introduces Lady Helen. The witch enters to the court’s applause and takes her place upon the dais at the end of the hall. She begins to sing a strange, haunting, lulling tune which gradually grows in intensity as she advances. Merlin looks around in alarm as the court begins to fall asleep. The candles extinguish and cobwebs begin to form over the guests and servants as they fall under the enchantment, including Gaius at the table, Gwen against the wall, and Uther flanked by Arthur and Morgana on their thrones.

Unaffected, Merlin realizes that Helen has turned her Death Glare onto Arthur as she pulls a dagger from her sleeve. Merlin’s eyes flash as he turns his gaze to the chandelier that hangs directly above her, and with his magic he makes it plummet straight down, crushing the witch beneath it.

The court awakens, muttering in confusion and pulling off the cobwebs. But just before she dies, the witch hoists herself up and hurls her dagger at Arthur’s chest. Merlin races toward the banquet table and yanks Arthur out of harm’s way. The two of them topple to the ground as the dagger spins into the back of the throne.

Uther and Arthur stare at Merlin in shock.

Uther: You saved my boy's life. A debt must be repaid.
Merlin: Oh, well...
Uther: Don't be so modest. You shall be rewarded.
Merlin: No, honestly, you don't have to, Your Highness.
Uther: No, absolutely. This merits something quite special.
Merlin: Well...
Uther: You shall be rewarded a position in the royal household. You shall be Prince Arthur's manservant!

The court applauds as Merlin and Arthur stare at each other in undisguised disgust. Gaius raises his eyebrows and Gwen claps slowly with a sympathetic smile on her face.

Back in Merlin’s chamber, Gaius suggests that saving people may well be the proper use for Merlin’s magic, though Merlin is less keen about the idea of saving Arthur on a regular basis. Just before Merlin answers Prince Arthur’s summons, Gaius gives him a book of magic and extracts a promise from him that he’ll keep it secret and study it carefully.

Gaius: Your destiny's calling. You'd better find out what he wants.

Tropes

  • Acting for Two: Eve Myles as Mary Collins and Lady Helen.
  • Adorkable: Gwen's clumsy attempt to cover for her "I like ordinary men like you," statement to Merlin.
  • Because Destiny Says So: Why practically everything that happens in this show happens.
  • Birds of a Feather: Merlin and Guinevere become instant friends due to their social station and mutual dislike of Arthur.
  • Bullying a Dragon: More like "standing up to a dragon", for when Merlin intervenes in Arthur's bullying of a servant, there's nothing he can do to prevent getting locked up for the night.
  • City of Adventure: Camelot.
  • Cobweb Jungle: A side-effect of Mary's spell, leading to the entire banquet hall getting covered in cobwebs.
  • Colour Failure: The maid that Mary Collins kills.
  • Country Mouse: Merlin
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Mary's attempt to kill Uther's entirely innocent son. Likewise, Uther's execution of a man that Morgana claimed was harming nobody.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: Arthur and Merlin when Morgana enters the banquet hall.
  • Establishing Character Moment: For everyone, but of particular note are the introductions of Arthur and Guinevere. Arthur comes across as an arrogant bully in direct contrast to how he's usually portrayed in the legends, but later has a sudden moment of Hidden Depths when he lets Merlin go without further punishment after their second tussle. Meanwhile, Guinevere approaches Merlin in the stocks and assures him that (despite his current predicament) he did a brave and heroic thing.
  • Eve Myles: As Lady Helen and Mary Collins (it's her under all that old woman prosthetics).
  • Evil Diva: Mary Collins at the banquet.
  • Eye Open: There's a close-up of Merlin's eye when he awakens for his first morning in Camelot.
  • Falling Chandelier of Doom: Merlin causes one to land on Mary Collins.
  • Femme Fatale: Morgana. She knew what she was doing when she wore that dress.
  • Foreshadowing: Gaius tells Merlin that Morgana suffers from nightmares.
  • Fridge Logic: The witch in this episode has the power to teleport in a self-made hurricane, kill people by stabbing a straw effigy, disguise herself as anyone she wishes, and stop time itself by singing. Is there a reason she didn't instigate these powers before her son had his head cut off?
  • Glamour Failure: The witch's true form can be seen in any reflection. This weakness to magic is carried on throughout the entire series (as in "The Eye of the Phoenix").
  • Mugging the Monster: Shades of this show up when Arthur bullies Merlin, who could probably, even untrained, explode his head if he wanted to. Very narrowly subverted in their second fight, when Merlin does use magic discreetly, and would have won had he not spotted Gaius in the crowd.
  • Mythology Gag: Both Merlin and Guinevere's utter disdain for Arthur. If they only knew...
  • Non-Action Guy: Merlin, as seen when he goes up against Arthur.
  • Off with His Head!: Thomas Collins
  • Opening Narration: By John Hurt as the Dragon. After this episode, we get a much briefer introduction before each episode.
  • Revenge by Proxy: The witch goes after Arthur in order to punish Uther for killing her son.
  • Shipper on Deck: Guinevere quite likes the idea of Arthur and Morgana hooking up. Merlin does not.
  • Ship Tease: Between all four main characters. It's that kind of show.
  • The Mirror Shows Your True Self
  • Villain Ball: Mary just leaves her Voodoo Doll and Spell Book lying around.
  • Voodoo Doll: Mary stabs one to kill Lady Helen.
  • Weapon Twirling: A proud show tradition that is naturally first demonstrated by Arthur with a mace.
  • Welcome Episode: Apart from Arthur/Guinevere (which is not introduced properly until season two), all the relationships between the core cast are firmly established when Merlin enters Camelot.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Uther. On the one hand, beheading Thomas Collins was not only excessive, but had dire consequences. On the other hand, Thomas's mother's actions only serve to prove his point that magic is evil, and Gaius tells Merlin that before Uther became king there was chaos in the land due to the misuse of magic.
  • What Happened To The Mouse?: What did the witch do with Lady Helen's body?
  • You Can't Fight Fate: Or so the Dragon tells us.