By John Keegan and Gregg Wright
This episode is fighting an uphill battle from the start. It comes right after a pretty significant change in the status quo, but conceptually it's an episode that could almost have been put anywhere in the season. This is the episode that should deal with the aftermath of Gwen's infidelity and banishment.
Shows like "Supernatural" are often pretty successful at using a relatively stand-alone story to deal with the characters' psychological states, but "Merlin" has always struggled to combine its competing interests in stand-alone stories and serialized storytelling.
With that in mind, "A Herald of the New Age" works better than I expected it to, but still falls short of the mark. However, the episode does work as a somewhat indirect, subtle follow-up to "Lancelot du Lac". The heavily somber tone is very fitting, and the same could be said for Arthur's characterization. Arthur is heavily serious for most of the episode, and simply wants to avoid thinking about recent events, but it's easy to tell that it's weighing on him. Arthur's apology to the spirit of the Druid boy could be seen as a natural moment for a character who has been emotionally weakened by recent events.
The episode also ties in well with Arthur's more violent past in the service of Uther, in regards to Camelot's treatment of the Druids. It's not really clear whether this event is the one seen in season 2's "The Nightmare Begins", but I got the impression that it was more likely to have occurred when Arthur was younger. Regardless, it's a good connection to Uther's reign, and allows for further contrast between Uther and Arthur.
It makes sense to have Elyan be the one to get possessed and try to kill Arthur. He has more reason than most to be angry with Arthur, considering that Arthur just banished his sister. One thing that was sorely lacking in last week's episode was the involvement of Elyan. I would have expected him to have tried to defend his sister or at least be visibly upset with her, but he's nowhere to be found.
This episode had the opportunity to address that problem, and it doesn't really succeed. Elyan's possible feelings about recent events are only briefly mentioned as a possible motive. I suppose one could see the Druid boy's acceptance of Arthur's apology as being a semi-symbolic apology from Elyan to an Arthur that feels guilty about Guinevere (given that the forgiveness is coming from Elyan's body).
"A Herald of the New Age" is an atmospheric, low-key episode that doesn't deal with the aftermath of the previous episode as much as I'd like, but still manages to be reasonably effective on its own, and in the context of the themes and overall story of "Merlin".John Keegan is the Editor-in-Chief for Critical Myth, a partner site of SciFi Vision. Gregg Wright is Critical Myth's reviewer for Merlin.