Camelot Season One, Episode 7: A Long Night’s Journey into Day

I’ve just seen episode 7 of the first season of the Starz television series, Camelot, and I’m commenting on it as I have for all episodes so far.  This episode seems very much like a transitional episode bridging the development episodes of mid-season and the climatic season ending.  There are three episodes left, and I would guess that episode 8 would leading is into big action battles between King Arthur at Camelot and his sister Morgan at the Castle Pendragon.   There are only ten episodes, and I’m hoping that the next season will have the 22 customary in a full length season on American television.  It’s certainly the most interesting thing on at the moment, to my mind, though there are two other very series I plan to discuss: The Borgias (I have recemntly reacted to what I consider to be a very poorly reasoned review); Game of Thrones.
Appropriately for a transitional episode, this focuses on a long and rather shapeless night, and I think it is rather brave of the makers to make an episode which will probably be sen as confused and drifting by some.  It’s tied together by exploration of characters, itself heavily oriented to Morgan’s desire to know more about the inner relations at Camelot, and Morgan’s plan to take England, or that part of England governed from Camelot, away from Arthur.  She has invited Arthur, and his companions, to a banquet at Castle Pendragon.  The normally wary Merlin accepts as he wants to find out more about Morgan.  We have two sides trying to interpret the other side’s personalities, social shape, and plans.  Morgan’s investigation is more purposeful though.  Her plans involve a subordinate plot about perverse desire, as one of the principles in her plotting is a knight at Castle Pendragon she finds spying on her in the bath, leading to a relationship of sado-masochstic dynamics in which the knight proclaims his submission to Morgan, and willingness to carry out her desires regardless of reward.  This acts as a counterpoint to the more obviously romantic tangles of desire at Camelot, particularly in Arthur’s love for the wife of his champion.  The knight’s submission to Morgan, deliberately or not, has resonances of Medieval courtly love, with the sado-masochistic subtext made more text like.
The night of confusion includes a faked attack on Castle Pendragon with appears to be the aim of discovering the military methods, and the psychological dynamics of Arthur and his men.  The importance of fighting as a unit comes to the force in contrast with Gawain’s wish to run away on his own and kill the eastern king who is supposedly attacking the castle.  The belief of Arthur and his champion Leontes in unity triumphs over Gawain’s individualism, but we can expect the tension to return.  The desire of Arthur for Leontes’ wife Guinevere itself threatens that unity.  The fake attack is preceded by an orgy of Arthur’s knights with Morgan’s dancing girls, itself raising the issue of the threat posed by lust of an unromantic kind to the discipline and unity of the knights.  The hours of confusion in the castle include some revelation about Leontes’ background.  His strong Christian faith, which is in marked contrast with Merlin’s scepticism about religion, and everything, is shown as its roots in guilt.  Leontes’ reveals that he killed a 12 year old boy in battle in front of the boy’s mother, and that his desire to be a perfect knight and servant to Arthur is rooted in his desire to atone for that incident.  He is similarly idealistic in his attitude to Guinevere, setting up audience sympathy for Leontes, and establishing increasing tensions about the consequences of the so far largely restrained desire between Arthur and Guinevere.
The main result of the night for Morgan is the discovery that Arthur’s mother, Igraine,  who displaced Morgan’s mother as Queen, is the emotional centre of the Camelot interpersonal network, and that she is a mother figure to everyone.  Morgan has already been shown as able to get into Igraine’s mind and see what she sees.  The final scene shows that Morgan has kidnapped Igraine and magically assumed her appearance, so that she can ride off with the Camelot knights in the morning, and penetrate their world.  We are left to wonder wether Merlin has noticed anything strange, he has been defined by his scepticism and his intelligence, along with his willingness to open up to Igraine more than anyone else.  This must be a prelude to Morgan’s assault on Camelot and the end of her pretence at friendship with her half-brother.  At this point she can only be an unsympathetic character, though previous episodes have indicated that Morgan and her associates have some good reasons for contesting the power of Arthur.  Besides the tension of impending war, we are left with the tension of how these characters will come to appear.
The idea of an episode which is long night’s journey into day is done well, and takes full advantage of the depths and complexities of a castle, to develop the mood of uncertainty, mystery and emerging conspiracy.  We will be able to judge the show properly after the tenth episode.  If this inaugural season does have a strong ending, then we are looking at a show of great distinction.

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