The Crystal Cave
This episode starts In Medias Res
with Merlin and Arthur running through the forest in Slow Motion
with a Heartbeat Soundtrack
and a gang of bandits chasing them. Why? How? Doesn't matter. They find a hiding place down in a mossy bank and Arthur states that he knew they would escape, annoyed with Merlin's lack of trust. Naturally, this is the bandits' cue to charge at them...from the opposite direction. They continue in the same vein as they run for cover, with Merlin becoming increasingly annoyed with Arthur insisting to "trust me" only for more danger to find them. He stops short at a place that Arthur identifies as the Valley of the Fallen Kings, a rocky glen that opens out behind two large statues of crowned warriors. Merlin pauses in fear, sensing powerful magic, until Arthur has to grab his arm and drag into the valley, annoyed and insisting (arbitrarily) that no bandit will find them here. That's the bandits' second cue to shoot him in the back with an arrow. Merlin tries to haul him to his feet, but Arthur falls unconscious.
Somehow Merlin manages to conceal the two of them, and watches from a gorge as the bandits rush past. Over a campfire Merlin prepares a poultice of leaves and presses it against Arthur's forehead, trying to revive him with magic. He tries magic, pleads with him, tries magic again, but it seems (to Merlin at least)
that Arthur really is a goner this time. Merlin goes over to a nearby spring to wash Arthur's blood off and cry in despair. His weeping is interrupted by the voice of a stranger.
Taliesin: Tell me: why are you so sad?
Merlin looks up to see a wizened old man with a white beard in long robe watching him. Merlin explains that Arthur is dying, but the old man assures him calmly that the time for him to die has not yet come. He introduces himself as Taliesin, says he knows who Merlin is and calls him "Emrys" and goes over and heals Arthur with magic. While Arthur is still asleep, however, Taliesin says he wants to show something to Merlin: The Crystal Cave.
The Crystal Cave is Exactly What It Says on the Tin
, and Taliesin describes it as the place where magic began. Glimpsing at a crystal at eye-level, Merlin sees a vision of Morgana sitting on a throne as Queen
, as well as an image of himself as an old man
. He quickly deduces that the crystals on the walls of the cave are the same as the Crystal of Neahtid
, that which revealed to him the visions of himself releasing the dragon and all the havoc that ensued from that. Taliesin confirms that it the Crystal of Neahtid was hewn from this very cave. Perhaps understandably, he has no desire to see any more crystal prophecies. However, Taliesin insists the he looks, saying he can use the prophecies for good, and Merlin reluctantly steps forward and gazes into the nearest crystal.
Several images flash across it: Morgana struggling with a long-haired horse, Morgana drawing a decorative dagger, Morgana in a red cloak walking down a hallway, a finger dripping with red blood, himself roaring in the dragon tongue with fire burning behind him, and Morgana stabbing Uther in his sleep with the dagger. After trying to tear his eyes away from the images as they appear in the crystals all around him, Merlin collapses in what seems to be terror and pain, demanding to know what has just happened. But Taliesin has vanished.
Merlin sits catatonic and twitching back in the woods until Arthur throws a bag at him.
Arthur: You look like a started stoat!
Merlin: Yeah? Well, at least I don't look like a bone-idle . . . toad.
Arthur: You're saying I look like a toad?
Merlin: Yeah! And maybe one day, you'll magically transform into a handsome prince. . . . Since magic's outlawed, that'll probably never happen. C'mon, let's go.
Arthur: Merlin! I'm the one who gives the orders, remember?
Merlin: Yeah. You ready? Let's go!
Arthur tries to figure out what happened while he was unconscious, but Merlin doesn't want to talk and makes up a lie about how the arrow never pierced the armor, just knocked him down, at which point he knocked himself out. Arthur is slightly confused but commends Merlin for getting them out alive, and even offers him a reward. He is even more confused when Merlin is too distracted and annoyed to want one.
Back in Camelot, Arthur reports what he's learned about the bandits to Uther and the entire court, publicly commending Merlin. Gwen gives him a friendly nudge, but he's too angsty to appreciate it. As they leave, Uther comments that they were worried Arthur might miss the feast the next day to celebrate Morgana's birthday. Merlin watches them go, still looking shell-shocked.
Over dinner with Gaius, Merlin tells him that he can't get the visions out of his head. Gaius tells him that he's very lucky to have seen the Crystal Cave and that Taliesin was a seer that died almost three hundred years ago. Merlin is certain that the visions he saw are imminent and that it's up to him to stop Morgana from killing Uther, but Gaius tells him that since crystals are tricky things, it's best to do nothing.
The following morning Merlin brings Arthur breakfast, but his smile fades when he hears that Arthur plans to give Morgana a dagger for her birthday. Outside in the courtyard he's struck motionless by the sight of Morgana trying to calm a white horse, just as she appeared in the crystal. Merlin rushes to tell Gaius, who is struck by a sudden case of Arbitrary Skepticism
and tells him that the horse and the dagger might just be a coincidence.
Back in Arthur's room, Merlin is given a load of laundry to do, but Arthur also asks for his opinion on Morgana's gift. Merlin is delighted to see that the dagger is nothing like the one in his vision, but rather very simple and unadorned. He jokes that most women prefer pretty things like jewelry, and Arthur gets a thoughtful look on his face.
Merlin has cheered up considerably when he tells Gaius about the gift, and has decided to forget Taliesin and enjoy the feast - even if it's for Morgana's birthday.
In the banquet hall that evening, a toast is raised for Lady Morgana, who sits decked out in gems and jewelry next to Uther and Arthur at the head table. Uther has given her a necklace to wear, and Arthur wriggles in anticipation as his gift is presented. Merlin's smile fades as Morgana opens the box and withdraws a Gem-Encrusted
dagger, unsheathing it before her eyes just as he's seen in the crystal. Arthur steps up to his side and congratulates him: he was right in saying that girls enjoy pretty things.
Later that night, Merlin is almost beside himself with worry, though Gaius is still not convinced. Merlin states that he was shown the visions for a reason, and needs to watch Morgana night and day. He hunkers down behind a tapestry in the corridor outside Morgana's room and waits. Inside, Morgana and Guinevere are looking over her gifts. Most of them seem to be hairbrushes, but a flicker of recognition comes over Morgana's face when Gwen presents her with a hand mirror from some unknown king. Giving Gwen a gift of an embroidered handkerchief to get rid of her, Morgana waits until she's alone before examining the mirror more closely. She breathes over its surface to reveal a message from Morgause, asking her to meet with her after dark.
Merlin starts awake as Morgana opens her door later that night, and watches as she pushes the dagger into her belt. The sight of her walking down the empty corridor in her red cloak is another vision from the crystal, and Merlin follows her closely as she makes her way through the palace. As she approaches the end of the hallway Merlin uses his magic to slam the doors shut in front of her and cause a lighted torch to fall. Startled, Morgana trips over her cloak and topples down a stairwell, landing heavily on the floor. Horrified, Merlin hurries after her to see a trickle of blood dripping down over her forehead.
Having presumably raised the alarm, Gaius leads Guinevere, Arthur (carrying Morgana) and Merlin into the physician's quarters, barking out orders for water, bandages, herbs and space. As he stitches up the wound he tells Gwen that Morgana's cranium is broken and that she's bleeding inside. Merlin watches grimly from behind them.
Gaius goes to speak with Merlin in his darkened bedroom, and Merlin says that he only wanted to prevent Uther's death, not stop Morgana. However, he seems resigned to Morgana's fate, telling Gaius that he's prevented something much worse from happening.
By the next day he's not so sure: after seeing a distraught Uther, a weeping Gwen and an agitated Arthur, Merlin is feeling the pangs of guilt. Having laid out Arthur's armour in his room, Merlin is privy to Arthur's thoughts:
Arthur: After all we went through to rescue her. For her to survive all that. To loose her now, like this...I've grown up with her, she's like a sister to me. I'd give up my place on the throne for her to see another sunrise.
Back in the physician's quarters, Merlin listens from his room as Uther looks over the pale and worsening Morgana.
Uther: I cannot watch her die Gaius.
Gaius: I wish there was something I could do, sire.
Uther: No you don't understand. I cannot lose her. No matter what happens, she must not die.
Gaius: I will do everything I can, sire.
Uther: No Gaius, whatever it takes. Whatever, I don't care. You must save her.
Gaius: If I knew a way.
Uther: You're not understanding me, Gaius. Cure her. I don't care what remedy you use. In all these books, there must be something. Something in the Old Religion.
Gaius: Are you suggesting...
Uther: Sorcery. Yes.
Gaius: I know she's dear to you sire, but surely you're not going to risk everything for Morgana.
Uther: Gaius, you don't understand. There's something you should know. Something I've told no one. Morgana is my daughter. It was while Gorlois was away. He was fighting in the northern plains. Her mother, Vivienne, grew lonely.
Merlin listens at the door as Uther speaks to Gaius, and neither man notices as Morgana's fingers twitch a little. Uther excuses himself, reminding Gaius that the people must not know about Morgana's true parentage: "for Arthur's sake." Gaius goes to Merlin, who now knows why Uther searched for Morgana so obsessively for a year.
Uther stares out of a window as Merlin brings him a tonic from Gaius to help ease his mind. Uther calls him back, commenting on how much Gaius cares about him.
Uther: You feel your child's every joy. And their pain. You watch their failings and you see your own. All you want if for their happiness. For them to escape the sufferings of life. Why has this happened? I would do anything...anything...
He breaks down into tears. Merlin numbly leaves, and watches in the rain as Arthur takes out his frustration on a practice dummy with his sword. Back in the physician's quarters, Gaius is telling a weeping Gwen that Morgana won't last until morning. Alone in his room, Merlin tries to compose himself.
But that night, he leaves the castle for the glade outside the city and calls for the dragon. Merlin tells him about the Crystal Cave and Morgana's attempt on Uther's life, but the dragon isn't impressed, reminding him that changing the future is no simple matter. He is delighted to hear that Morgana is about to die, but less so when Merlin asks him to help save her life.
Kilgarrah: I will not cure her.
Merlin: She is Uther's daughter.
Merlin: You knew. Why didn't you tell me?
Kilgarrah: It makes no difference.
Merlin: Well, whatever she planned to do, I stopped her. There's no need for people to suffer.
Kilgarrah: The witch must die, as she should have done long ago. I will not save her.
Merlin reminds him that he is a Dragonlord and he cannot be refused. Against his will, and with plenty of warnings, Kilgarrah breaths a fine mist over Merlin and flies away.
Merlin gallops back to Camelot and rushes for the physician's quarters, finding a drowsy Guinevere watching over Morgana. Merlin urges her to go and get some sleep, and as soon as he's alone with Morgana, he comes to his decision and performs the spell that the dragon infused him with. His voice is deeper than usual, echoing in the back of his throat, and he's forced to hold one hand in place over Morgana's forehead. She gasps and then settles down into a normal sleep.
The following morning Gaius returns to the palace to find Uther sitting by Morgana's bed, cradling her in his arms. She's awake and holding Uther's hand with her own. Outside in the corridor Uther thanks Gaius for his intervention, and though Gaius insists that he did nothing, Uther hushes him. In turn, Gaius goes to Merlin who confesses what he did, not being able to watch everyone's grief.
Up in her own room, Gwen helps Morgana sit up in bed and is dismissed as Uther enters. Uther and Morgana take each other's hands.
Uther: I could never let you die. I think I somehow willed you to live.
Morgana: You've always been so good to me. I'm grateful.
Uther: You and Arthur...you mean everything to me, Morgana.
Morgana: I know I could have no better guardian. Being so close to death has made me realize how important you and Arthur are to me. How close we are to each other.
Morgana: You're like a father to me.
She waits expectantly. Uther seems on the verge of confessing to her, but instead he drops his eyes and kisses her hand.
Morgana: I wish the people knew that.
Uther: They do.
Morgana: Not really.
Uther: Of course they do.
Morgana: In the eyes of the people I am no more than your ward...a guest...
Uther: What matters is what we feel. That's what's important, not what the people think.
He releases her hands and pushes her back against the pillows, telling her that he must let her rest. Morgana watches him go, a stunned expression on her face and tears in her eyes.
Later that night, a cloaked figure steals into Camelot. A young man enters a corridor with a goblet of wine and then collapses onto the floor, the victim of Morgause as she meets with Morgana in an upstairs hallway. There Morgana tells her what she overheard whilst in her coma: that she's Uther's biological daughter. The two of them have very different reactions to this news: Morgana is furious that she's been kept a dirty little secret all these years, whilst Morgause leaps to the political implications. If Morgana is Uther's daughter, then she has a legitimate claim to his throne. Morgana wants vengeance, but as the warning bells begin to sound, Morgause extracts a promise from her that she's not do anything rash. She gives her a kiss on the cheek, but Morgana doesn't reply. Morgause is forced to make her getaway.
Elsewhere, Gaius and Merlin are investigating the body of the pageboy when Merlin notices something strange: the red wine has spilled over the dead boy's hand, making it appear as though blood is dripping from his fingers. It's the next image in the sequence. Merlin hasn't changed anything.
Up in Morgana's room, Gwen makes the bed and comments that it's going to be a bad night as lightning flashes outside. Morgana learns that the intruder has not been caught, but seems to be mostly lost in her own thoughts. Merlin rushes down the corridor and bursts into Morgana's room just in time to see her sheathe the dagger into her belt. He claims Arthur sent him there to look after her while the intruder was on the loose, and cuts her off as she makes for the door. On trying to barge past him, Merlin grabs Morgana's wrists, and just when the Foe Yay
quotient is about to fly through the roof, Morgana uses her magic to throw Merlin across the room. He's knocked out against the wall, and a candlestick falls and catches fire upon a wall hanging. Seeing the flames leap up around him, Morgana considers the situation and leaves.
The final images from the crystal comes to pass as Morgana avoids the guards and heads for Uther's room, while Merlin wakes up and cries out in alarm. Uther is asleep in bed as Morgana stands over him, unsheathes the dagger, and raises it above her head. Merlin rushes into the room, hides behind a post and uses his magic to make the window explode inwards just as Morgana is about to stab Uther to death. She flies backward across the room in a shower of glass, and Uther wakes up in shock. Morgana immediately reverts back to tearfulness, kicking the dagger under the bed as she tells him about the fire. Uther hugs her and Merlin quietly slips away.
Back downstairs with Gaius, Merlin shares the story. Both of them come to the conclusion that Morgana's goals may have changed. If she knows the truth about her paternity, then she knows that Arthur is now the only thing that stands between her and the throne.
- All-Natural Gem Polish: The Crystal Cave. Justified in that they are magical and their purpose is to show visions.
- Annoying Arrows: Subverted. Arthur is seriously injured by one.
- Badass Cape: More of a "cloak", but Morgana never looks more stunning than when she's striding down corridors in Slow Motion with her long cloaks swishing and billowing all around her.
- Broken Masquerade: Uther instructs Gaius to use magic to save Morgana's life.
- Can't Kill You, Still Need You: An odd variation of this regarding Merlin making the decision to save Morgana's life. It's not that he "needs" Morgana, it's that he can't bear the pain of her loved ones as they struggle with their grief over her impending death.
- Convenient Coma: Morgana takes a tumble down the stairs and begins to die very slowly from her head wound.
- Cry into Chest: Merlin spots this between Guinevere and Arthur.
- Everything's Sparkly with Jewelry: A quintessential example in which Arthur switches a simple dagger for a Gem-Encrusted one in order to better suit Morgana's tastes.
- Exposition of Immortality: Taliesin's dialogue suggests immense age.
- Heartbeat Soundtrack: Used throughout the episode, particularly whenever one of Merlin's visions comes to pass.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: If Merlin had just ignored the visions, he wouldn't have fallen into the Self-Fulfilling Prophecy loop.
- Ill Girl: Morgana
- Insulted Awake: Merlin tries this on Arthur when he's shot by an arrow, but it doesn't work.
- Major Injury Underreaction: When Arthur first gets hit, he's told that it's an arrow, and says: "oh, I thought it was something serious..."
- Merlin Sickness: It's implied that Taliesin has this; on healing Arthur he tells Merlin that he'll fully recover: "If my memory serves me."
- Mythology Gag: Uther had an affair with Gorlois' wife while he was away. In most of the myths, this was how Arthur was born.
- Non-Linear Character: Taliesin, or so it would seem.
- OOC Is Serious Business: When walking back to Camelot, Merlin is either quiet or laconic, lies rather well, and when Arthur compliments him, he ignores him. Arthur is immediately suspicious, but doesn't investigate.
- Rearing Horse: The first vision in the sequence.
- Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: Everything Merlin does in this episode to prevent Morgana's attack on Uther results in her going through with it; specifically wounding her, putting her in a position to overhear Uther's confession, and thus making her so angry that she heads to his bedchamber to assassinate him.
- There's a mini-version that counts as Foreshadowing when he sees the plain dagger that Arthur has gotten for Morgana and comments on its simplicity, which results in Arthur getting a more ornate one.
- Shout-Out: The title The Crystal Cave comes from the first novel in Mary Stewart's Merlin trilogy, which was one of the first novelistic treatments of Arthurian legend that attempted a Demythtification angle.
- Succession Crisis: News that Uther is Morgana's biological father creates one.
- Small Role, Big Impact: Taliesin
- They Wasted a Perfectly Good Character: It's ambiguous how sentient the Crystal Cave is, but in its sole appearance it managed to A) Finally teach Merlin how self-fulfilling prophecies work, which beforehand he had no idea of B) Expose Uther's parentage to Morgana and thus set up his downfall and C) Do it in a way that no one, even the villain, got hurt. How did it accomplish all this? By showing Merlin a bunch of pictures. I'm glad we never see it again, otherwise magic would have been permitted by now.
- It shows up in the penultimate episode. And wouldn't you know, magic is permitted the very next episode.
- Wham Episode