Overall Rating: 5.5
This needed to be a two-parter based on the epic scale of the issues tackled in the story. As it is, it seems spectacularly rushed and illogical.
Agravaine persuades Arthur that, in order to be like his father, he needs to show strength to his enemies by making an example of a rival king and murdering him in cold blood if he refuses to agree to outlandish terms of surrendor. Which the rival unsurprising does refuse. After committing the murder (offscreen...BOOOOO!!!!!), any regrets Arthur might feel about it are pushed aside as he convinces himself that he is acting like his father - a great king, he believes - and protecting his kingdome. Agravaine, not satisfied with these attempts to isolate Arthur from potential allies, convinces Arthur as well that he must dispense with dating Gwen.
Meanwhile, the widowed queen of Arthur is understandably PISSED at the Pendragons and orders an all out war on Camelot. Morgana continues to pull the strings from the outside to get Arthur killed in battle or otherwise deposed - this time by joining forces with Arthur's new enemies. However, on the eve of battle, Arthur has an attack of conscience and decides that this battle is his fault and he must deal with it personally. He therefore hikes down to the enemy encampment on his own and turns himself in. He offers a compromise - allow a battle of champions. If Camelot wins, they must withdraw their forces, if Camelot loses, half of the kingdome will go to the rival forces. Somehow, this compromise is deemed acceptable and Merlin and Arthur are freed to prepare their champion (Arthur of course chooses himself). Morgana then has Agravaine steal Arthur's sword and enchants it so that at any time, she can make it way a thousand pounds. Arthur is about to be killed by the rival champion when Merlin spots the trick and curses the rival's sword to fly into Arthur's reach. He wins the battle but spares the rival champion. This impresses his wound-be enemy queen enough that she feels there is hope for peace between their peoples and Arthur returns home a hero. Upon his return, he cancels his plans to dump Gwen and chooses to rule with his heart, and not try to live in his father's shadow.
O HAI random new bereaved queen! We don't know you or nkow anything about your husband who Arthur just killed (off screen for MINIMAL impact...seriously??), but we're supposed to believe you're really REALLY pissed I guess. Oh and then we're supposed to believe the extremely pissed Queen would bother listening to Morgana PENDRAGON...or that she would let Arthur propose turns of compromise rather then simply lopping off his head with one good blow of a battle axe. I mean one minute they show her looking like Morgana on a BAD day...the next minute she's listening cordially to Arthur's demands for an end to the fighting and a champion duel? And then she has the gaul to criticize Morgana's evil rage at the end? I mean Morgana IS evil, but come on, lady...you can't agree to join forces with the girl and then say "dude...you're a sicko!" when you capriciously change your mind ten minutes later! Those mood swings make PMS look like the emotional calm in a Buudhist shrine!
On top of that...we never bothered to explore Arthur's mixed feelings about choosing to kill the rival king before he does so...we just know he stays up all night thinking about it...and then we never get a proper fight between he and Merlin over it - he's rude to Merlin, but Merlin is his conscience sometimes when he needs it and he just sort of gently whispers in his ear the whole time. Where are your BALLS Merlin...please...grow a pair...and soon.
The bottom line here...Agravaine is way too obviiously evil in this episode - the plot points are ENORMOUS in scale and happen way WAY too quickly, no time is devoted to exploring the issue of whether a son replacing his father on the throne should try to govern as his father did or whether he should follow his own heart, and no serious questioning was ever done as to whether Uther Pendragon really was a good leader. After all, we've just spent three watching as everyone in the known universe tried to topple Camelot because they were pissed at Uther and needing Merlin to save the day two dozen times over. It seems to me that Uther did not show true strength as King...and it seems to me that a good ruler wouldn't have so many blood enemies who governed in ways so similarly (i.e. had similar philosophies and yet despised Uther anyway). Shouldn't Merlin have been given a chance to say this?
The rapid pace of the episode robs it of any emotional impact and makes it frequently seem slapped together and nonsensical - let alone cliched. This should ahve been a longer story...two...many three episodes...not a fly-by-night hack script given no breathing room.
Sorry...but I have to hammer this script for crapping all over any potential it had.
The guest Queen, Agravaine, and the hack who played the rival champion and made him look like a drunken Klingon/Naussican hybrid monster really crippled my enjoyment of this episode. Arthur and Merlin were better, but still lacking in memorable acting moments.
That said, there is something to the message of this episode. It's a mistake to ever allow yourself to be ruled by what is expected of you without thinking critically about what is the RIGHT thing to do. Some of the greatest evil in this world comes from people thinking they have no choice. There are always choices.